Read all about it – Howard Barker from Bible Society talks about how legacies are helping to share the Christian word

January 12, 2024

In the commercial world, everything was about the bottom line; now it’s about how to make the biggest impact for the beneficiaries of our charity.” Howard Barker joined Bible Society in 2011 after working in the trustee department of a high street bank for 24 years. As he puts it, he effectively became ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ and now his role as Head of Legacy Giving encompasses not just legacies but marketing, website, appeals and events. He explains more:



Bible Society is one of the oldest (founded in 1804) charities and also one of the most global. We operate in around 240 countries and territories and we just work with local people, we don’t parachute westerners in to tell them what to do.

About 25-30% of our donated income is in legacies, providing around £3 million a year. We are very much a Christian audience, so if you’re not a Christian, you’re not going to leave anything to Bible Society.

The religious sector is quite a crowded market, but we stand out by being one of the only charities that specifically focuses just on the Bible. We translate it into other languages and print and distribute it around the world and we also work in the arts, education and politics.

There is a heartfelt desire by Christians that other people should be able to read the Bible and, for our supporters, their main focus is that their legacy makes an impact. We do a main legacy appeal every other year and also try to include legacy asks in other communications.

One of our most wide-reaching projects is called Open the Book, which is about opening up the Bible to young people, and we run that both in this country and around the world.

Recently I returned from Guatemala where Bible Society is working with girls who are having children; and with young males who are in youth detention centres. The trip was about sharing the Bible with young people in really tough circumstances.

Joining me was journalist Catherine Pepinster, the first female editor of The Tablet, and an interview with her will form the basis of our 2024 legacy appeal. We both loved seeing the children learning that God values them which builds self-respect which is vital in changing behaviours.

A previous legacy project was in Eswatini, in Southern Africa, where, thanks to the generosity of a UK supporter who left us a gift in his will, we built a Children’s Mission Centre. As a bricks and mortar project, it was a bit of a one-off and, when we opened the doors, the opening ceremony was attended by politicians and church leaders and made national television. All sorts of charities now use that building, which is very exciting.

In China, because the population is massive, even if a tiny percent become Christians, that’s an awful lot of Bibles needed. And, you need to have teachers that understand the Bible to explain it to people in a church service.

From a supporter’s perspective, if they want to leave £50,000 for our work in China, and it costs roughly £5 to get a Bible out, translate and print; that’s 10,000 Bibles going out through one legacy.

People can be quite cynical about the Church in this country, but they see a growing Church abroad and think, let’s send that money and make an impact in poorer countries.

Besides legacy campaigns, we have a stewardship programme, so if a supporter says they are thinking about leaving us a legacy or is giving us one, we send specific mailings to thank and encourage them, and we invite them to an event each year. In 2022, it was held at Lambeth Palace; in 2023, we’ve had regional events in Cambridge and Manchester – there’s no ask, no cost, no hard sell – it’s just us trying to say thank you.

When I started this role, I was just doing legacy management  but after a couple of years, I took on everything legacy-related. Because that was very new to me, I found a very good person – Dr Claire Routley – to mentor and train me, and I’ve been getting on with it ever since.

When I was with the bank, I had assumed all professional executors tried to attain a high standard of their work and try to do a good job; since coming over to the charity sector, I’ve realised that a lot of law firms are not really that bothered, they just want to get the job done and move on.

Some are absolutely brilliant but others, who perhaps specialise in other sorts of law, dabble in probate law, maybe thinking it’s more straightforward than it really is. The Society of Estate Practitioners (STEP) is the gold standard, if you are dealing with a STEP member you know the law firm will be pretty good.

We are blessed with wonderful supporters and I want to make sure that when they leave a gift in their will, it reaches its full potential and impact, and we can honour the wishes of whomever is giving that special gift. I view my reason for being as facilitating that to happen.

A lot of people don’t even think about giving a gift to charity. I’ve sat in front of people and said ‘have you thought of giving your estate to Bible Society?’ and they go ‘well, you know, it never occurred to me, I would love to do that’. Asking for a legacy can make people happy.

There’s a danger that fundraisers can think we are just begging and I hate that. In a commercial setting, you’ve got someone that’s got some money and you’ve got a really good product. As a Legacy Manager, I am putting those two together. They can give as they wish to give, and we have a way of enabling that gift to have an impact.

I find the ILM a great support. As a single legacy person, having the ILM at my back and having opportunities to go to events gives me the opportunity to talk to people from other charities, to find out what they are doing, and to share problems and successes.

I couldn’t do any of that without ILM, so I really am a big fan and I like the fact that people in the legacy world support one another. I talk to other fundraisers within Bible Society and they don’t have anything like the sort of community we have in the legacy world.

Photo caption:

Howard Barker is pictured in Guatemala with one of the local Bible Society staff.


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