Almost half of those who pledge to leave legacies to charities change their wills to cut them out within 10 years, according to the legacy fundraising consultant Claire Routley.
Speaking in London yesterday at the Institute of Fundraising’s conference on legacy fundraising, Routley said that about 45 per cent of people went back on their decisions after pledging to leave money to charity.
"The 10-year retention rate is only 55 per cent, so people are changing their minds much more than we ever realised they would," she said.
Routley said she had never seen any research exploring what it was that prompted people to cut charities out of their wills and it would be a fascinating area to examine more closely.
Speaking in the same session, Ashley Rowthorn, director of the consultancy Legacy Link, said it was not known if this drop-off rate was caused by donors deciding they did not wish to support particular charities or if they had simply had a change in circumstances which meant they were no longer able to give.
Routley said those who had pledged to leave money in their wills were more demanding than other types of donors in terms of how effective and transparent the charity was, because many saw their donations as a chance to secure a kind of immortality.
"Their thinking is ‘I’m only going to achieve that central human need to live on into the future if I know your organisation is an effective steward of my money, and if you’re going to waste my money I’m not going to get my shot at immortality’," she said.
She added that charities should, as part of their marketing, try informing potential legacy donors that other people were also giving in their wills, because as well as looking back at their own lives and what was important to them, people who were thinking about legacies were also looking around at what other people were doing.
"There’s this idea that a legacy is very personal and very private – and, yes, in some ways it is," she said. "But actually it is affected by what we perceive other people are doing and what is going on around us.
"We know that this idea of making legacy gifts a social norm is a powerful thing to do, although I think I would test this carefully in your own organisations."