David Watt: Arts budgets are under pressure – please help by leaving a donation in your will

David Watt is Chief Executive of Arts & Business Scotland.
David Watt is Chief Executive of Arts & Business Scotland.
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Is there ever an appropriate time to talk about death? The arts have always been ­consumed by themes of life and death, while the central existence of many heritage bodies is to evoke the experiences of lives passed.

Why then, when it comes to ­legacy funding via people’s wills, do cultural organisations punch well below their weight in comparison to ­medical research, religious organisations or educational institutions (the National Trust for Scotland being a ­notable exception)? Resourcing may be an issue for some while others may ­simply not be comfortable with broaching the topic.

Recent headlines highlight ongoing financial uncertainties facing many cultural bodies. In that context, ­perhaps it is time for more arts and heritage organisations to ­overcome those sensitivities and ­consider developing a legacy fundraising strategy.

Legacy expert Richard Radcliffe has recently highlighted millions of pounds in untapped private funding that arts and heritage organisations could potentially target. A series of recent focus groups in Scotland have established that almost one in five Scots currently has a charitable legacy in their will but that up to one third of the Scottish population plans to leave money to a charitable cause in their will in the future.

With around one million Scots ­currently aged over 65 and assuming an average individual legacy donation of £15,000, this equates to £5 billion of potential legacies to the Scottish charity sector over the next 30 years – equivalent to £165 million per year.

These figures show the rising popularity of legacy giving and a growing desire from Scots of all ages to give something back to good causes for the benefit of future generations. ­Official figures from research by Smee & Ford also show the cultural sector to be the fastest growing recipient of legacy donations in the UK.

For a growing segment of the population then, leaving money to the arts or heritage says something important about what defines them as ­people – whether that’s experiencing the arts as an important inspiration for their life choices and goals or heritage as a key expression of their culture and identity. These are life-affirming experiences that a rising number want to see preserved for their children and grandchildren.

Despite the growing popularity of cultural legacies, Mr Radcliffe remains concerned that the cultural sector is not taking proper advantage of this opportunity, with legacies ­currently providing a much smaller proportion of funding revenue for arts and heritage organisations than for the charity sector as a whole. This problem, he argues, is further ­compounded by a particular reluctance of Scottish charities to source additional funding from ­legacies compared to their English counterparts.

The long lead times involved in realising the benefits of a legacy ­fundraising strategy can be a turn-off for many organisations that are understandably focused on sourcing short term funding. But with a generation of wealthy baby-boomers currently writing and reviewing their wills and an increasing number intending to donate to charity in the future, now seems a prudent time to look again at the long-term pipeline potential of legacy funding.

Research suggests that people rarely change the beneficiaries of their will over their lifetime. With many first wills written on ­getting married or at the birth of a first child, there is an argument for engaging with younger generations too.

For smaller arts and heritage organisations, efforts to pursue legacy fundraising needn’t be expensive or resource intensive or involve a ‘hard sell’. Instead, it could simply start by ‘planting a seed’ in the minds of loyal supporters by means of informal and indirect conversations.

With public sector budgets for ­culture under significant ongoing pressure, legacy giving has huge potential as a growing future source of funding.

Last week, Richard Radcliffe attended an Arts & Business ­Scotland development forum in Glasgow, where he guided participants through the process of developing a successful legacy funding pipeline, while also covering topics such as identifying and reaching prospects and legators and providing practical information to potential donors.

But he will also be returning to Scotland on 26 April to take part in Inspiring Fundraising: A National Heritage Conference where Scotland’s heritage sector organisations in particular will be able to reap the benefits of his legacies expertise.

David Watt is chief executive of Arts & Business Scotland.