Evolving from Legacy Administrators to Legacy Managers: A Conversation with RSPCA's Donna Barclay

Published 01 March 2024
When RSPCA won Legacy Administration Team of the Year at the 2023 Smee & Ford Legacy Giving Awards, it was an important moment for Donna Barclay, Head of Legacy Income Management at RSPCA. The award would come to symbolise not only what her team had achieved, but also the shift in perceived importance that legacy management has in the sector.
In this interview, the latest in the Legacy Limelight series, we spoke to Donna about the key drivers behind that shift, lifting the lid on the important work that her team manages.
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Donna Barclay, Head of Legacy Income Management, RSPCA

Legacy Management or Legacy Administration - what’s in a name? Is there a difference?

You’ll find that each charity has a different name for these teams and roles, but I do think the choice sends an important message.

In my view, ‘administration’ sounds like a processing task, and underplays the work that goes into the role. ‘Income Management’ is more proactive - we manage the charity's biggest income stream, we don't just administer it. 

Across the sector I think there’s been a shift towards the term ‘management’, reflecting not only how the role has evolved in recent years but also the understanding of what the work entails. It’s a broad area of work, and people are coming to understand that even more so now. 

How did you get into Legacy Management?

Like many professionals in the legacy world, I come from a legal background. When I moved to London I landed a job as a legacy officer at SSAFA, as I had a keen interest in Wills and probate. 

Since then, my role has changed and moved away from the pure legacy work - I no longer handle a case load directly. Instead, I’m more involved in oversight of the team and the income stream as a whole. People look to me for insights on wider trends in the legacy world and the impact they might have, rather than my technical knowledge on inheritance tax calculations, I rely on my team for that!

What drew you to this sector?

For me, the main attraction was to work for a charity - it’s immensely rewarding to work for an amazing cause and see the impact of the gifts received.

I didn’t really know that the world of legacy management existed before I started in this job, but I can see now that it’s such an interesting area to work in. You can really use your legal knowledge, but without the pressure and stress that might come with some commercial practice. You also get a really wide variety of work - Wills from people from all walks of life, with differing family structures and financial circumstances.

I feel very fortunate to work for a large charity like RSPCA, who really look after their people. I have fantastic colleagues and really enjoy what I do. I also love how collaborative charities are with each other, it is a really amazing sector to be part of.

Donna and her colleagues in the Legacy Management Team at RSPCA.

Why is Legacy Management so important for charities to get right?

For many charities, legacies form a massive income stream, and so they should be investing in managing that properly. 

From a financial planning point of view, if your legacy management is done well it can really help with forecasting, and understanding where income will come from in future. This will help a charity plan how it can deliver its objectives.

As well as building relationships with supporters of the charity, and protecting and enhancing its reputation, good legacy professionals  act as  ambassadors for the charity. We need to give executors and those people who choose to leave us the gift the time and gratitude they deserve. There’s a real opportunity to give them a good experience. You can only do that with a properly resourced team who can commit the time to that supporter.

What are the essential roles to cover in Legacy Management?

The more important element to understand isn’t necessarily the roles you need to have in a legacy management team, but rather the skills that are required. I’m fortunate to work for a large charity where our team can cover many of these skills. At a smaller organisation, it will be vital to partner with other internal teams to ensure all of these elements are covered.

  • Operations - to manage all the post, cheques, payments and Smee & Ford notifications
  • Finance / the numbers - to understand and articulate cash/income, forecasting , accruals, etc.
  • Law - dealing with tax and legal claims against estates requires technical knowledge and strategic thinking
  • Property - this is often the biggest asset in an estate, so a keen eye on the property market and maximising property values is essential
  • Communications - liaising with a wide range of people, including speaking to lay executors and supporters takes skill. The way we thank people for the generous gifts needs real care and attention

I’m a big believer in recognising specialisms, though these don’t all need to sit as dedicated roles within the legacy management team. The most important thing is to acknowledge the specialisms you need, and to ensure the most skilled person at your disposal can support that.

Outside these competences, soft skills like empathy and compassion, understanding, time management, attention to detail and good interpersonal skills are essential. 

Commercial pragmatism is also key when collaborating with professional executors and co-beneficiaries. We want to work with professional executors in a way that makes their job easier, so they’re more likely to support future Clients wishing to leave a gift in their Will to charity. We need to understand when to request information from a firm and when to either find it ourselves, or let it go. Similarly, we need to be cooperative with other co-beneficiaries. We represent the sector better when we partner effectively, making it more likely that others will leave a gift in their Will.

How do you get buy-in for a Legacy Management team?

I think it very much depends on the people in your organisation, and what feels relevant to them. Knowing your audience is key to getting buy-in. For example, people in fundraising might like stories, so by sharing insights into the people who left us legacies, it helps bring things to life and gets their attention. Meanwhile finance  might be more interested  on the numbers, so it might be useful to capture added value and put a nominal value on how much extra you’ve raised because you’re doing what you’re doing well. 

I would encourage all legacy management professionals  to be proud, be proactive, and seek all opportunities they can to raise the profile of legacies. It’s a team that could easily sit in the background on top of a massive income stream. We shouldn’t be afraid to go out and talk about how interesting our work is and how important it is.

What success are you most proud of?

Winning Legacy Administration Team of the Year at the 2023 Smee & Ford Legacy Giving Awards was a really proud moment for us. The award has pride of place on the front desk as you walk into the RSPCA office! We did lots of internal communications and social media about the win, and it was really well received internally. Winning an award is actually more meaningful than you might imagine - it cements what you might think about your team already. Everyone is really proud to say they work for an award-winning team. 

Part of our award entry was around the quality of work carried out by the team and high standards we work towards. It’s easy to focus on numbers and KPIs, but our ways of assessing  the quality of our work have been transformative. We look at how a case is managed, how proactive we are, how we communicate and whether we’re living the RSPCA values around expertise, compassion and integrity. I’m really proud we can demonstrate the high quality work that our team manages. 

Most of all, I’m really proud to manage a happy, collaborative and motivated team. Personal development and training is really important, people  want to stay in the team. For me, that’s the most important mark of success.

Donna and her colleagues at RSPCA celebrating their success at the Legacy Giving Awards. 

What’s changing in Legacy Management? What are the challenges ahead?

There are a number of changes that we can expect to experience across the sector in the coming years:

  • Social: The families of the people who leave us a gift are becoming more complex, with more blended families and an increase in the number of beneficiaries in Will. We’ll have to evolve to deal with this growing complexity in the ways we work
  • Legal: The legal world is always changing, and with new rules around Ex Gratia, we can expect to process claims in a different way moving forwards
  • Political: upcoming elections could bring about change and instability, as well as new ways of working in government departments like HMCTS and the Land Registry
  • Technical: we’re working with more and more lay executors, who are increasingly tech savvy. They are going to hold us more accountable around data and information, and have higher expectations of the 'service' we provide and how we communicate about what we’re doing with the gift received.
  • Competition: with legacy giving becoming more popular, we’ll expect to see greater competition from other legacy receiving charities, as well as more co-beneficiaries in Wills, which we’ll need to navigate. We want to stand out, giving positive experiences when people leave a gift in their will to the RSPCA.

Internally, at the RSPCA we’re seeing a shift towards using more insights from numbers, forecasts, statistics, and other data. There’s more emphasis on the picture beyond just a number in the accounts. We need and want to understand what’s going on, what might happen in future, and why. 

What data analysis would you recommend for legacy managers to run to understand their supporters giving behaviours?

Something we’re always interested in is understanding when a person wrote their Will, what share of their estate they left to us, and who the co-beneficiaries were (if any). It’s also really helpful to know if they had any special requests in their Will - if they want their legacy to be used in any particular way. That might help how we speak to people about their legacies in future, so it’s really useful information

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