Leaving a legacy: how you can support BTO in your Will

Sam Rider

Legacy Manager

Sam deals with legacy administration and marketing, in memory giving, and communications with the families of deceased supporters.

When I first walked through the front doors of BTO on 16 September 1996, I could not have imagined that I would still be working for this amazing organisation 27 years later.

I knew very little about BTO back then and was slightly bemused, early on, when lots of pagers went off in the office, alerting everyone to a rare bird in Cornwall. Several excited staff bundled into a car for a whistle-stop trip to see a Little Bustard on The Lizard. 

BTO, and the world, were very different places in 1996; pagers are no more but the passion of the staff and all of our supporters for science, birds and the natural world is just as great. Support is exactly what BTO members and volunteers do, from giving valuable time to monitor and ring birds, to paying membership subscriptions, making donations or bequeathing gifts in Wills.

My journey into legacy administration

I’ve worked as part of the Fundraising Team since 2000, originally supporting our former Director of Communications Graham Appleton, when the ‘Team’ was just the two of us. I had very much a ‘thanking’ role when it came to legacies and didn’t find out there was so much to learn until 2019 when I became much more involved thanks to Susan Hughes, our Head of Fundraising at that time. 

We don’t always know each person’s motivations for giving, but there are often really lovely stories behind why they chose BTO to benefit from a part of their Estate.

Bequests given to any charity have to be properly administered, in accordance with Charity Commission regulations. We also have to adhere to guidelines set out by Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) and the Fundraising Regulator, and of course answer to the BTO Board and our auditors!

For me, it was a steep learning curve but a rewarding one, involving studying for a year and successfully passing the ILM/Law Society Certificate in Legacy Administration. Legacy administration must be done with the utmost respect and care for the families left behind and the individual who has passed away. Every gift we receive sadly means we have lost a member of the BTO family and emotional phone conversations with bereft loved ones can be incredibly upsetting. 

Respect and care for everyone’s stories

Pamela Joy and PJ

Pamela Joy’s gift to BTO allowed us to tag the wonderful Cuckoo PJ, named in Pamela Joy’s memory by her family. PJ contributed hugely to our understanding of Cuckoo migration, and engaged the public across the world with our Cuckoo research.

Read more about the impact of Pamela Joy’s legacy >

We don’t always know each person’s motivations for giving but there are often really lovely stories behind why they chose BTO to benefit from a part of their Estate.

The common theme for many is obviously a life-long love of birds. Pamela Rhodes is a recent example of just that: she left a gift to BTO in her Will to help us kick-start work on the 2027 Bird Atlas.

Pamela Joy Miller passed on her enthusiasm for the natural world to her family, who commemorated Pamela Joy by making a Deed of Variation to her Will, to fund two Cuckoo satellite tags in her memory. One of these tags was placed on the Cuckoo PJ, who became a record-breaking bird in our Cuckoo Tracking Project and collected data for six years.

Individuals approach the subject of Wills very differently. I have spoken to pragmatic supporters who are more than happy to talk about their wish to support BTO’s work after their death, having had a lifetime’s pleasure from birds. Others choose not to discuss their plans and feel this is an intensely private matter.

I empathise with this reticence. My own elderly parents had to update their Wills recently. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, I was nominated by my older siblings to ask our mum and dad if their affairs were in order. I found myself on the doorstep delivering their weekly shopping, clad in mask and gloves, asking the dreaded question. Having made Wills back in the 1990s, the eventual answer was “no”, as everything was out of date. 

Why it’s important to create a Will

Anyone who owns assets should have a Will...without one, the Probate Court will deal with your Estate and adhere to a strict line of inheritance, meaning that none of your closest friends or the charities you are passionate about can benefit.

An out-of-date Will is almost as bad as having no Will at all. My mum, in particular, found the whole process very upsetting because, being in her late 70s, she felt it signalled that her life was now over. Despite this, my parents both acknowledged that organising their affairs was the sensible thing to do, so that we, their children, won’t have to worry about whether we are doing what they would have wanted.

Anyone who owns assets – such as savings or property – should have a Will. This is especially the case if you have children under 18, because a Will (or accompanying Letter of Wishes) is how you specify who would be their guardians if anything were to happen to you. If there is no Will (which is called intestacy), the Probate Court deals with your Estate – all the money or property you own – and adheres to a strict line of inheritance, meaning that none of your closest friends or the charities you are passionate about can benefit.

There’s also the prickly issue of tax. For larger estates that are eligible for inheritance tax, a solicitor can give advice on how to handle your affairs. In simple terms, leaving 10% of your net estate to charity could reduce the inheritance tax rate for the chargeable part of your estate from 40% to 36%, so friends and family due to receive gifts could benefit from that reduction.

How your gift can help BTO

A gift for the next generation

Frances Hurst is an inspirational volunteer and former BTO Trustee who has kindly decided to remember BTO in her Will.

Listen to her story of how she became interested in ornithology, and how watching woodpeckers with her grandmother ignited a life-long passion for birds.

BTO received just over £1.4 million pounds from gifts in Wills in 2021/22 – 63% of our total fundraised income for that year. We are incredibly grateful to those individuals who chose to remember BTO in their Wills. These gifts, alongside donations, grants, subscriptions and contract income, help fund BTO to do what it does best – high-quality ornithological research, bird monitoring in all its forms, and training.

Although we have been fortunate to receive some incredibly generous gifts in Wills from supporters with large estates, a gift of any size is appreciated; even giving a small percentage of a residuary estate (1%), after remembering those important people in your life, can make a real difference. 

We appreciate, though, that leaving a cash gift is not something that all of our supporters are able to do. Giving good-quality optical equipment or bird identification guides as a specific gift for our Equipment Donation Scheme (EDS) is something you could consider. The EDS supports young people who want to be out birdwatching and learn more about the natural world, but don’t have the means to buy their own binoculars, scopes or bird ID guides; through the gifts of our fantastic EDS donors, we have helped over 2,300 young people to enjoy nature, learn more about the birds in their local patch and kick-start a lifelong passion for birds.

Many BTO supporters will have invested in our work for many years and be keen to secure the future of birds and nature on our troubled planet. As Legacy Manager, I am happy to chat about how you can make a difference.

Together, we can help to provide for BTO’s future, by passing on monitoring and scientific expertise to new generations, encouraging more people to get involved with ornithology and conservation and providing evidence to inform and influence policy. This is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

Help us to secure a brighter future for the UK’s birds.

By remembering us in your Will, you’ll be helping safeguard our wonderful birds and their environment for future generations to enjoy – a truly valuable gift.

Learn more about leaving a gift in your Will

You can also contact us with any questions at legacies [at] bto.org – we’d love to hear from you.

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