Guest Blog: James Stebbings

April 11, 2023

We need to look outwards, not inwards

As Chair of the ILM, James Stebbings is a man on a mission to raise the profile of legacy management. Just over 18 months into the role, he discusses future ambitions and reflects on achievements so far.


Having worked in legacy management for the last 15 years, I’ve always felt that our sector is under appreciated. However, I have also reflected that we don’t do enough to champion our work. My feeling is that the ILM has always spoken almost exclusively to members, and I am determined that we start being more visible in the wider world. I want us to do more to celebrate your work and to ask for the things you need.

We are so lucky have a fantastic close-knit community. The atmosphere at last year’s conference was wonderful and I felt so happy being surrounded by friends who shared so many of the experiences I have had in my working career. We bond on so many levels, including a knowledge that few people know or understand our world.

That aside, while happiest speaking to other legacy officers, I think we all need to be brave and start telling people about the invaluable work we do. I want us to lose that shared experience of being under-appreciated.

Many senior charity leaders think the role of legacy teams is all about building awareness of legacy giving. They assume that once a supporter dies the funds will just arrive. It’s sadly the case that while many senior leaders in the sector are very familiar with our colleagues in the legacy marketing department, they are often puzzled by the existence of a legacy income team and often don’t know the very important role that these individuals undertake.

This ignorance of our work results in teams across the sector being underfunded which ultimately means that legacy income is lower than it should be.

Charity leaders are not the only audience we need to reach. We also need to have our voice heard by the legal profession. We need professional executors to know what we need from them and to understand why we ask for the information we need. These relationships are vital and we all need to work to ensure they are as positive as possible.

A third key audience is governments and external bodies. We need them to know who we are, so we can work with them to reduce barriers to us optimising income from gifts in wills.

On this front we have really stepped up in recent years, and I am very proud of the influence we have had on the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS, which has resulted in them increasing staff numbers at the Probate Registry.

Other examples of what we are doing, include meetings with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to try and resurrect the notification service in Scotland; we have secured representation on the Charity Commission’s working group looking at the new SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice); we had time with the Law Commission discussing changes to the Charities Act; ILM Director Blerta Clubb is on the Law Society’s Wills and Probate Committee; and we hope we will soon be part of a regular conversation with HMRC.

We will continue to do all we can to represent you on these issues and many more.

My hope is that by building awareness of our work, we will also attract newcomers to the sector. We know we need more of us to deal with the ever-growing income from gifts in wills. I know that those who join will cherish being part of a kind and collaborative sector and I hope that these new members will bring new ideas and diversity of thought to make sure we are always improving.

There really is so much for us as a sector and as individuals to be proud of. I have recently reflected that the value of legacy officers is far higher than I had previously thought. Whilst the loss of notifications in Scotland appears to have led to a 10% decline in gifts it has highlighted to me that our interventions save that 10%. If we add to that the 5% we add through working on the cases we do know about, it is reasonable to suggest added value is 15% which equates to more than £500m a year!

Our drive to do more in this area has led to us creating a new role of Events and Communications Officer, and we are delighted to have Blessing join the team to help us increase our brand profile and the awareness of all your work.

I hope that you are starting to see this change of approach already and that you are supportive of this more open approach. I also hope that you will continue to tell us what we need to be focusing on so that we don’t miss opportunities.

All that said, I am really looking forward to conference this year and being in a room of people who share the same challenges and who enjoy each other’s company as much as we do. Going out is great but home is pretty great too.

 

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