Member Blog: Esther Oddy

May 11, 2023

Membership focus at the heart of Esther’s role

With ILM membership at its highest-ever level and a host of exciting plans ahead, Esther Oddy, Head of Member Engagement, reflects on achievements to date and talks about her love for the charity and legacy sectors.

Esther Oddy BlogHaving worked for several different charities since 2004, both as part of a legacy team and in membership since 2009, I was very excited to join the ILM in May 2021.

I remember once, when I was in the legacies team at The Children’s Society, going out and doing a house clearance because someone had left the house in their will to the charity – that gave me an early interest in legacies. And before joining the ILM, I spent four years as a membership manager at the Good Things Foundation (a digital inclusion charity).

This role combines the best of both worlds and gives me the opportunity to really ‘own’ the membership offer at the ILM, bring in improvements and benefits for members, while also focusing on maximising income specifically for charities.

The Head of Member Engagement role was created because the ILM was at the stage where it needed someone to (as the job title says) engage and work with members, to recognise that all members are different and they want different things.

Because no-one had been really doing the engagement role before, it was effectively a blank piece of paper. I took time to really understand the sector, effectively doing an audit of how many charities there are, how many legacy professionals are likely to take advantage of our services, and what their needs are.

Matthew’s knowledge and understanding was incredibly helpful in terms of setting out what we felt were realistic new membership targets. I’m really pleased to report that we exceeded those targets quite quickly – an 11% growth by the end of 2022 and on track to surpass 700 in the next few months.

We’ve set new recruitment strategy goals, including checking trends and identifying charity sectors that are growing – for example, hospices and air ambulance charities are seeing increases in the number of legacies they are now being left, and we’re pleased to say we have new members from both those areas.

When new people join us, we make a point of speaking to them to gain feedback, ensure they are taking advantage of membership opportunities such as training, and we send them a new member survey.

I’m pleased we’ve also been able to halve the attrition rate and I think that’s a result of increased engagement. If a member is leaving, we find out if one of their colleagues wants to join instead; we’re offering flexibility around payment plans and instalments; and we’ve introduced bulk/single invoice options for charities with multiple members.

Corporate Partners
Above all, our remit is to serve our members – giving them access to skills, knowledge and expertise through our Corporate Partner programme, and continuing to engage in order to deliver the support they need.

Talking of Corporate Partners, I very much see our relationship with them as our USP. They give their time generously, sharing advice and guidance, participating in training and events, and many have stepped up as willing volunteers for our mentoring programme, which was launched last autumn.

What we’re not seeing (and I’m not sure why) is those members who actually want to be mentored. This is a huge opportunity for them to plug into a fantastic network of knowledge and enhance their skills, so if you’re out there and you want some additional support, now is the time to step forward.

Of course, there are challenges – one of which (ironically) is encouraging more members to meaningfully engage with us. Our recent Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) survey is a good example, as the completion rate was considerably lower than we would have expected.

We fully understand that, especially within smaller charities, if the role of legacy officer is just one hat someone is wearing, they may not have the time to fill out surveys and that is something we need to think about.

What we don’t want is to plan a training schedule based around the needs of those charities who are always front of the queue in responding, we need to be able to represent the full cross-section of all our members. If anyone has any ideas, we’re always very happy to listen.

New ideas
We’re continuing to invest in new ways of communicating and new training opportunities. Harnessing both existing and new technologies for the benefit of members is one example, such as our new members’ WhatsApp group and text service. It’s about finding different channels for different types and levels of communication.

There’s a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and if that is appropriate for us. I would say, we’re open to looking at it, but only if doing so will genuinely help members – that needs to be key. I am absolutely clear that it needs to be a softly, softly approach.

On the training front, I’ve introduced several new programmes; notably the Introduction level course for beginners and the Diploma in Charity Legacy Management, both in 2022; as well as establishing the Foot Anstey Leadership Programme in 2021.

We very much see our training planning for 2024 and beyond being more focused on skills-based training and leadership, and not just on technical/legal training.

When I refer to ‘we’, I cannot stress how much I love being part of our small team. Rebecca Mitchell joined in November 2021 in another new role as Membership & Governance Officer.

This is a huge task focusing on financial and administrative membership support, including maximising member data accuracy; and she does a sterling job with training, and especially on the CiCLA and Diploma programmes, both of which are incredibly admin-heavy. What this means is that it frees me up to focus on strategic and project work, and I couldn’t do what I do without her support.

Excitingly, this year we expanded our little team even more with the arrival of Blessing Chishiri, who joined us as Events & Communications Officer in March. Blessing brings her own experience to the team and I’m looking forward to working together with her on shaping our future communications and events plans.

I am very excited about the future and how we can continue to grow for the benefit of all our members and Corporate Partners. The ILM is a force to be reckoned with in the legacy and charity sectors and I am proud to be part of the team. And I can’t wait to see you all at our Annual Conference!


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