Creating a legacy programme for your museum - Museums Association

Creating a legacy programme for your museum

A case study from Stromness Museum
Janette Park
The exterior of Stromness Museum
The exterior of Stromness Museum Unukorno, CC-BY-SA 4.0

As part of our Covid recovery and longer-term sustainability, Stromness Museum on Orkney has produced a leaflet that gives information on how people can leave a gift in their will or in memory of a loved one. 

Producing such material has been something we have toyed with for some time. I had been encouraged by a local solicitor to do so, but there was never the time and it is always easier to put off the difficult tasks. 

In December 2020, funding from Museums Galleries Scotland’s Recovery and Resilience Fund gave us the opportunity to focus on producing our leaflet. Stromness Museum is an independent charity whose main income is from paid admissions, and like many other museums the economic impact of the pandemic has decimated our finances.

We wanted to concentrate on making our future more financially sustainable, and the creation of a Legacy Programme took precedence over usual museum activities such as planning public events and exhibitions.

As part of the programme, we decided to produce:

  • A leaflet
  • A bookmark
  • A contactless donations box
  • A legacy page on our website

A few years previously, a member of our team attended the National Arts Fundraising School, which covered legacy giving as part of its course. Although the training she’d been given was excellent, it was still very difficult to turn this into something that worked for our organisation.

There are charities who have produced very successful leaflets and dedicated areas on their websites for legacy giving, so the first thing to do is study as wide a variety of these as possible to get a feel for how others have approached the topic. There was also a useful article from Museum Practice published in 2015 about legacy giving.

Society feels awkward about how to approach the subject of wills and legacies. We do not want to offend or upset anyone, especially someone who cares about the museum.

The next part of the process of creating a leaflet asking people to leave your organisation money in their will is accepting that we need to normalise this conversation. 

When people have decided to write their will, they are actively looking for this kind of information. By creating a leaflet you are actually helping them by explaining how to leave a gift in their will, and giving them the option to choose your museum rather than a different charity.

You are not just asking for money – you are giving them an opportunity to be part of a future vision of what the museum will achieve.


Language used in the leaflet should be positive and proactive, not apologetic. The text should be brief and concentrate on giving the key messages.

Tell them what you can do, not what you could do. How do you want your leaflet to look and what photographs should you choose?

Think about what potential donors are looking for. We asked ourselves and others why people would want to leave money to the museum. What are they looking for in return? 

One of the key motivators was connection to shared heritage, fostering a sense of belonging, ensuring the long-term preservation of the museum’s collections for inspiration and learning, and supporting their community.

As a result, we asked some supporters for testimonials to show why they felt the museum was important to them and worthy of support.

My fascination with the museum’s natural history collection led me on my path to become a wildlife cameraman.

A testimony from Raymond Besant, wildlife photographer and cameraman, which Stromness Museum used in its legacy giving leaflet

If a visitor picks up a legacy giving leaflet in your museum and asks for more details, all staff need to be aware of the procedure and who to direct them to.

It is critical that early enquiries are handled in a sensitive manner. Likewise, patience is key as a legacy programme may take up to five years, or longer, to become established. Relationships with potential donors have to be established and nurtured.

Think about who will be your main contact for someone interested in finding out more about your museum and what you do. Initial enquiries may lead to conversations on what they are interested in funding through a legacy.

All legacies will be ring-fenced so potential donors can have confidence that their money will be spent in the way they intended.

Janette Park is curator at Stromness Museum

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