David Burrows: Get ready for the 'legacy shoppers'

More people are leaving money to charities in their wills but there may be unexpected consequences, says TDA's head of fundraising

David Burrows
David Burrows

Legacy income may be fragile, but the good news is that more people seem to be writing charities into their wills.

It's hard to say why this is happening: it might be recent campaigns by legacy consortium Remember a Charity, the fact that more charities are promoting legacy giving or other socio-economic trends. But whatever the reason, we should be glad that something is working in our favour in the current climate.

If we succeed in creating a society in which more people leave legacies to charity, we will have achieved something wonderful - but there could be unexpected consequences.

People are now on the receiving end of more active legacy marketing than ever before. Pushing people to make legacy decisions could prompt them to look more actively for reasons to choose or dismiss particular charities, taking into account factors such as administration costs. They will be asking the question "Why should I leave money to you, rather than Oxfam or Cancer Research?"

I am not sure how many charities are ready to handle these questions. There are still boards that think legacy fundraising is about administration, when in fact it is increasingly about communicating a unique proposition in a competitive environment.

The head of legacies at one major charity recently told me she was coming across an increasing number of 'legacy shoppers' - her term, not mine. These are people who are actively weighing up the merits of different charities and explicitly asking what's in it for them. Many of them also want to know what control they will have over how their money will be spent.

Don't panic. These people are still a tiny minority, and most legacies still come from people who appear to be wonderful, altruistic angels.

But the more we push the concept of legacies to new audiences, particularly members of the baby-boomer generation, the more likely it is that we will bump into people who like their philanthropy mixed with a dash of self-interest, or at least a dollop of hard evidence about effectiveness and efficiency.

Increasingly, these people will quietly go to our websites to look for that evidence. Let's make sure they find it.

FACT FILE: LEGACY GIVING

Research by Legacy Foresight in December last year showed that the number of legacies received by its 38 charity members, which receive 44 per cent of the value of gifts left to charity each year, had risen by more than 8 per cent in two years.

The charities received 36,262 legacy gifts between autumn 2008 and autumn 2009, up from 33,506 during the same period in 2006/07.

However, only 7 per cent of people in the UK aged over 40 had left gifts to charities in their wills in that same period of time.

Residuary notifications - when the remainder of a person's estate was left to charity after specific amounts had been allocated elsewhere - were worth £50,000 on average.

The average value of pecuniary notifications - in which specific sums were left to charity - was £3,500.

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