Viewpoint: It's the cause that nets the legacy, not the charity

Charitable legacies have increased, but donors won't always remember in their wills the charities they supported in their lifetimes.

About 45 per cent of adults have written wills, and charity donors are far more likely to have written them than non-donors. The number of people leaving charitable legacies has increased since the early 90s by nearly 29 per cent, and 13 per cent of those who write wills leave legacies.

But these figures could be misleading. The percentage of voluntary income that legacies form for charities as a whole is different from that for, say, all overseas development charities and all children's charities.

Smaller 'pictures' based on cause areas might produce a more reliable account of charitable legacies.

Donors and volunteers open their hearts in focus groups about exactly why they do or don't write wills, and why they do or don't leave legacies.

To study legacy giving closely, I used focus groups made up of a total of 890 people who donated to 14 different charities.

So why is it that two well-known medical research charities have a vast number of donors who have written wills, but only a total of 9 per cent of them have included either of them in their legacies?

Other medical research charities - most notably Cancer Research UK - get about 50 per cent of their income from legacies. Perhaps it's the cause that persuades people to donate, not the charity, and therefore legators give to the biggest cancer charity in the sector.

Why is it that overseas development charities get a relatively small 15 to 25 per cent of their voluntary income from legacies when such a high percentage of their donors have written wills and more than half of their donors have left charitable legacies?

Overseas development charities have a high number of will-writers as supporters because such supporters are highly committed - to human rights, justice and to themselves and their families. They ensure that their philanthropic plans are as good as the plans for their families. They are not spontaneous donors but thinkers and planners.

Why have 40 per cent of environmental charity supporters included legacies to charities, but only 4 per cent to ones concerned with the environment? Is this cause not as important as cancer? Maybe it just isn't as personal.

If such disparate results are typical, then charities have to be careful when looking at legacy statistics, and possibly ignore them entirely when forecasting legacy income. Instead, they should look more carefully at the quality of their relationships with donors.

Again, it is the cause, not the charity, that persuades people to take action. And they do it because they want to, not because they have been asked.

We can't be sure of anything about legacy giving until we understand our donors. Ideally, I'd like to interview the dead. If I do, I will get the answers to you.

 

5 MORE THINGS...

The Institute of Fundraising says 3.5 per cent of inherited wealth in the UK is gifted to charities, and more people than ever are leaving donations in their wills.

Income from legacies is rising significantly faster for smaller charities than for larger ones, according to a 2006 report by the charity consortium Legacy Foresight. Charities with legacy income of less than £7m a year have seen their income grow by 5.6 per cent a year since 2004, compared with 2.3 per cent for charities with legacy income of more than £20m.

Rising property prices have created greater potential for growth for charitable legacies, according to the same report, but the prospect of inheritance tax can act as a deterrent, as legators aim to leave as much as possible to relatives.

Another threat to legacy income is increasing life expectancy. Charities could see legacies fall by 2012 as the existing elderly population declines and the elderly of the future live longer.

Remember A Charity launched a television advertising campaign last year. The consortium also published research in 2006 suggesting 68 per cent of adults want to leave money to charity in their wills.

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