Lizzy builds a wild(life) new legacy career

November 24, 2023

After 20+ years in the family building trade, a change in circumstances meant Lizzy Steward found herself looking for a fresh start. Passionate about wildlife and animals and already a member of Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT), she was thrilled when a friend and future colleague mentioned the Trust had a vacancy for a legacy assistant.

Fast forward four years and Lizzy is now Legacy Officer at EWT, a varied and demanding role that has delivered both sad occasions and the best of days, as Lizzy explains.

I started as a legacy assistant and within three or four months Covid happened, so we emptied the office and I had a stack of files about six feet high to work from home. I was getting to know the system, the language of legacies – which I take for granted now, but I didn’t then.

In my interview, I had to put a presentation together ‘why would a residuary legacy be best for a charity’, and I literally had no idea. Once I researched it, I thought how interesting it was and really got behind it – I think legacy management is a really fascinating role.

What I didn’t know was how sad it can be at times. Within six weeks of starting, we lost one of our pledgers, Olive, we were her executor as she had no immediate family.

I had to go to her house to empty it and sell the contents, take her medication to the pharmacy, pick up the death certificate, choose her funeral clothes, her coffin and her funeral songs. It was hugely eye-opening.

I’ve just been an executor again, so I’ve finished my first house auction and had to empty the property to sell as many things as we could. Some of the things you find are ‘interesting’.

The lady who died this year wasn’t even an Essex Wildlife Trust member, yet she left everything to us and, as she lived in a manor house with nine acres of land, it’s been completely mad…and it’s still going through probate now, I’m chasing weekly!

I completed the CiCLA course in February and that was a real learning curve because I didn’t realise how much legacy officers have to pull together to administer the estate.

I work four days a week and a typical day means checking reviews, chasing solicitors, checking probate registry, updating data points, going through estate accounts and writing lots of letters.

The run-up to Christmas is busy, we put a letter together for our confirmed pledgers along with a Christmas card, so after doing my legacy admin, I might spend an hour with the design team designing a Christmas card or an invite for an event.

My favourite job is writing to people to thank them for a gift; or even just writing to solicitors once I’ve done all the ‘Sherlock stuff’ which is finding out when they died, what kind of person they were, finding out about the funeral notification. When I write a letter, it’s completely personalised, it takes a little time, but it pays dividends and is always appreciated.


I arrange pledger stewardships – three events a year as a thank you events to individuals who we know have left us a gift in their will. This involves arranging visits/guided tours and liaising with colleagues, doing risk assessments, making sure the invites and RSVPs have gone out, all the legwork that goes into making these a hit.

I also organise bespoke visits for people who, for example, can’t drive or walk any distance. I might pick them up from their house or a train station and take them out in a 4 x 4 vehicle. Not being able to travel shouldn’t mean they can’t come and be thanked, it’s also an opportunity for us to get to know them and show our appreciation face to face.

It’s so gratifying when I collect somebody who might not have left their house for a long time and spend the whole day with them.

I took a chap out earlier this year, he couldn’t drive any more so rarely left the house, he loved it, the smile he had on his face the whole day made me very happy.

We also organise In Memory events, where people have donated in memory of someone, for example at a funeral. We held one recently with 40 people and we have another one in November where we’re inviting 180, so there’s a lot of work involved.

Recently in one week, I ran an In Memory event and a pledger event – prepping for those means buying refreshments for the ‘car café, I literally pack everything into the boot of the car and serve it from there.

The week before I met three potential pledgers, so that was that week gone in a flash.

Thankfully, I now have my legacy assistant Becky, who looks after In Memory donations, thank you letters, administers the donations and organises the memorials. This includes our two Trees of Life, so anytime someone wants to put a plaque on the tree, Becky handles it.

Encouraging new pledgers

We only know half of the notifications I receive, lots of the time it is a total surprise as the legators weren’t members of our organization.

We have over 2,000 volunteers, many have a real deep connection with the Trust and some are pledgers, which is amazing given how much they already give back to our charity. Otherwise, we haven’t done really any canvassing for pledges other than the drip feeding in our membership magazines, and a few adverts in local magazines.

In terms of measurable success, everything we put into Remember A Charity week this year has really worked. We launched our new gifts in wills downloadable guide, our new Guardian Angels free wills scheme; we had bookmarks made and distributed at all our centres; we created a new staff & volunteer guide and we changed our social media signature for a week.

Everyone in the trust was on board with legacies that week and we received four more confirmed pledges – it’s rare to see that many in such a short space of time.

Next year we’re running a lot more events, including an Enquirer event where people have maybe expressed an interest in leaving a legacy, and we’re planning a solicitor event too.

A new CRM system is being installed in April and that will give us access to more of a donor journey, being able to target certain ages etc., and record the data more easily, which is important going forwards.

Leaving land

In addition to my daily tasks, I deal with requests from people who want to leave a small parcel of land to Essex Wildlife Trust. These requests always come through to me initially – we had about seven enquiries in just two months earlier this year.

Most of the time people simply want to protect the land from being built on, or sometimes they’ve done a lot for wildlife and don’t want to see all their hard work undone.

Normally I meet them to understand exactly what it is they want to leave, then maybe pop out again with someone from the conservation team so they can ascertain the biodiversity and if there is any benefit to us taking the land on board; there will be meetings behind the scenes, then we write to them, the process is quite time consuming.

We have 87 reserves around the county to look after, which means are staff are spread thin so sadly we’re not able to take this land on board. It is my job to be upfront and honest with them in the nicest possible way, often offering alternative ideas such as our Wilder Communities where they get the local community to help them look after the land.

Promoting where legacy money is spent

Most legacies come into our core income and then it’s difficult to extrapolate out what the legacy has specifically gone to, a restricted legacy is a lot easier to write to the family about because it’s gone to a particular reserve however as with most charities the importance is funds to core income.

An event I ran recently was a thank you attended by six different families where all the money was specifically restricted to that one reserve and, because we’ve done a massive project there, it’s very easy to do a nice case study and a big shout out. We’ve included their names on our interpretation boards, they know exactly what the money has funded.

In Memory donations are often restricted to a favourite reserve and you have to keep it in a restricted pot. I have a monthly meeting with two members of the senior management team to remind them of what we’ve got in the pot and the need to spend it. The worst thing would be if the individual’s spouse died or their daughter or son or whoever, never got to see where it went, I would hate that.

We’re about to launch an appeal for a land purchase in Little Baddow and I had an express wish legacy that came through for £40,000, the donor wanted us to buy land in that area, so it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!

Legacy challenges

Probate! It’s so slow, that’s probably my least favourite subject right now because of how long it is taking, it’s messing with my pipeline, with all my reviews, nobody really knows how long it is going to take and it’s a real bugbear.

I go on all the ILM calls when Matthew and James do them and I understand their frustration, I know they are chasing for us but there is nothing they can do really. We are reliant on that going through.

The second is how long it can take for solicitors to come back to me. I’m just blown away by the fact you can ask them four times in the space of six months for an update and have no response whatsoever. Personally, that’s my biggest issue because I want it to finish, I want to thank the family, to invite them to an event and meet them and say ‘look what we’re doing’. I want to show our appreciation and it’s hard when an estate takes an awfully long time to administer.

Our senior management keep asking ‘when will probate be in’, ‘when can you ask for some money’ and I can’t – until probate is granted my hands are tied.

Flying the legacy flag

I think every charity struggles with flying the legacy flag among colleagues as death is a difficult subject.

Recently we had an all-staff day where we closed all the centres so everyone could come. I ran a presentation and introduced a video of our lovely pledger Tom – it was so personal and I think it really made the staff understand about why people leave money to our charity. I also produced an internal leaflet for our staff and volunteers about how legacies help the charity, as well as providing advice on how to handle questions the public might ask.

We try to have a presence for legacies everywhere, including our own internal social media, but we do have to fight harder than most departments as it’s not always the easiest of subject matters.

We do struggle with it internally as I know all charities do but I just keep chipping away…After the staff day I got three people from the comms team to write their wills, so I’ll take that as a win (laughter).

Click here for more information on the Essex Wildlife Trust


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