From WOMBATs to Wisdom: British Heart Foundation's Legacy Management Transformation

Published 03 November 2023

Welcome to the latest Legacy Limelight instalment!

This time we're in conversation with Meenaxi Patel, Head of Legacy Management at the British Heart Foundation about the importance of legacy income, challenges and identifying WOMBATs!

Meenaxi (1)

Q: How important are legacies as an income stream for BHF and the overall fundraising strategy for the charity?

Legacies are a vital income stream for the organisation and account for more than half of the BHF’s annual income, which contributes towards life-saving research into heart and circulatory diseases.

We are very fortunate in that senior stakeholders play an active part in understanding legacies and recognise the importance of them.  They are all too aware of challenges within the sector and the external environment and, the possible impact this may have on legacy income.  It makes a huge difference when you have this level of support and people are willing to engage with our work.

Q: Can you tell us about a project/process/change that has impacted positively on BHF legacy management activities? 

We underwent a continuous improvement project whereby we looked at all our processes and identified WOMBATS (anything that was a Waste of Money, Brains and Time).  This was much needed as the team were becoming increasingly busy and we realised that things were just being done because that’s how they have always been done.

If you truly want to be sector leading, you need to be prepared to shake things up every now and then and not rest on your laurels.  A couple of examples of this were moving to email correspondence (even before the pandemic) rather than sending letters, adopting a fully paperless system and, determining what was needed to prepare for year-end and the audit i.e. not every estimate needs to be checked!

Q: What was the biggest challenge(s) about this project and how did you overcome it/them?

I think when you have worked within an organisation for so long doing a job day in day out, it becomes increasingly harder to look at things objectively.  We had to effectively “unlearn” what we do to then be able to take a step back and really assess why we do something and what value it brings.  We had to go back to basics with paper and post it notes to map out our processes and ask “WHY?” at every step to really determine whether there was any real value – whilst this was time consuming, it is paying dividends now.  It transpired that there were circa 200 steps that we could strip out and this streamlined our processes and meant the team had capacity to focus on the more meaningful aspects of legacy management and ultimately, be more efficient.

Q: What was your top learning from this and how will you take that forward into subsequent projects?

Giving people permission to challenge what we do and why we do it (regardless of level within the team) has been fantastic especially when we have welcomed new members into the sector and they are doing things for the first time.  Continuous Improvement should always be at the forefront of our minds as we strive to make positive changes where we can.  Having an appropriate method / channel to capture any suggestions is also key.  This thought process can be applied to any project – when setting up a working group and putting governance in place, we should always be thinking “why are we doing this”, “what value will it add”, etc.?  The alternative is going into something blind and not necessarily achieving desired outputs.

Giving people permission to challenge what we do and why we do it (regardless of level within the team) has been fantastic especially when we have welcomed new members into the sector and they are doing things for the first time.

Meenaxi Patel, Head of Legacy Management

Q: What do you think the top challenge(s) will be for legacy management teams over the next year?

 Most teams across the sector are working to capacity and notification numbers are starting to increase - files are also remaining open for longer which means legacy professionals are holding more files than you would expect to see.  Whilst an increase in workload is good and demonstrates how incredibly generous our supporters are in leaving gifts in their Will, we will have to work that little bit harder to ensure that we really do put supporters and Executors at the heart of what we do and that our work doesn’t just become transactional.  There is no substitute for a meaningful THANK YOU!

Q: If you had to give just one top tip for a legacy management team to focus on, what would it be?

Normalise legacy conversations within your organisation!  There is a fear amongst people especially those who don’t work in Legacy Management or Legacy Marketing that it is a morbid subject and people will be offended if you talk about death and Wills.  This is absolutely not the case – there is something incredibly powerful about gifts in Wills and their ability to make an impact even after death so please don’t shy away from these conversations.  A good way to introduce this topic to the wider organisation is to share the interesting work of your legacy management team – it is never a dull day in the office so why not give people an insight into what you do?! 

About Legacy Limelight

After the legacy giving sector came together at the Smee & Ford Legacy Giving Awards in April, we want to continue the celebration of legacy professionals and the impact of their incredible work.

In this new series we will be sharing inspirational stories from across the legacy sector, shining a light on the difference that legacies can make for charities and their beneficiaries, and showcasing the people who make legacy gifts happen.

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We have also spoken to Elle Cohen from Shelter. The team at Shelter won the Excellence in Collaboration and Partnership in Legacy Giving at the Legacy Giving Awards. 

Read the Legacy Limelight interview
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