Leaving the right kind of legacy

Lillian Brown considers what charities can learn from the negative press recently being levelled against them


I recently attended an interesting legacy seminar in support of Remember a charity in your will week (who knew?) that was hosted by Bates Wells Braithwaite. It got me thinking about the kind of legacy charity fundraising is leaving in the public consciousness, and how we could begin to change it.

One of the key aims of the event was to help to make charitable gifts in wills a social norm. But, while more charitable giving by donors is the goal, the recent negative public perception of charities highlighted in two quite high-profile cases may in fact result in fewer legacy donations!

Olive Cooke, a long term poppy-seller and regular giver to fundraising causes, committed suicide. Mrs Cooke was being sent 180 letters a month and was plagued by phone calls. Her friend told BBC Radio Bristol that, while he would not blame her death entirely on charities ‘pestering’ her, she had been ‘under pressure’.

In the case of Samuel Rae, an 87-year-old man with dementia, it emerged that charities had passed on details to con-men 200 times, resulting in his being tricked out of £35,000.

The Prime Minister spoke publicly about the subject and urged fundraising regulators to look at how they could have helped Mrs Cooke. Equally, the media’s response to these tragic stories has significantly affected the fundraising sector and how it goes about raising monies for its many and diverse causes. Some press reactions to the Cooke and Rae stories read:

  • ‘Shame on charities that prey on the kind hearted and drove Olive to her death’
  • ‘Spent much of her pension on charity donations but was receiving an overwhelming number of letters and phone calls asking for more’
  • ‘Charities are desperate to raise money by any means’

The information commissioner said charities risk becoming a ‘dirty word’.


New laws

The result of this negative press was a call for some charities’ conduct and the Code of fundraising practice to be amended and updated. In addition, the Information Commissioners Office specifically requested changes to the telephone fundraising regime. So, the Code of fundraising practice has now been amended and reworded.


Tackling the bad rep

While the court found that the fundraising pressures that Olive Cooke faced weren’t the cause of her death, it did leave a negative image of the charity sector. So how is the sector to recover from this negative press and public attention and still continue much of its good work?

Here are three things that we should all seek to do:

  1. See what lessons we can learn from these cases and review our fundraising approaches.
  2. Comply with the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) Code of fundraising practice, that sets out standards expected of all IoF members.
  3. Remember that, according to the Fundraising Standards Board research, 60 per cent of the public would be more likely to give to a FRSB scheme member, and therefore an IoF Code follower and 41% would donate more (TNS Survey of 1000+ UK respondents).


Our sector can learn from these two cases, and we should all seek to improve our fundraising practice. Compliance with good practice as laid out in the IoF Code is a good starting point and can also help us do what we seek to do best:  help raise money and income for those people that are most in need.


If you want to know more about setting up legacy fundraising for your charity, or how you can improve your fundraising practices, contact Lillian on lillian@valewisham.org.uk

Photo: Howard Lake (Flickr)