The sector is facing the most volatile time ever for legacy income, according to Richard Radcliffe, director of Radcliffe Consulting.
He told delegates at a session about the existing state of legacy income that some charities had experienced wild swings from year to year in the amount of funding they were receiving from legacies.
"I think we are hitting the most volatile time in legacy income," he said. "I have never seen so much volatility in my life – it is really scary out there."
Radcliffe said he had looked at the legacy income of six adult hospices listed on the Charity Commission’s website between 2009 and 2010.
He said some had seen their incomes fall from more than £1m to £100,000 a year, whereas others had seen only a relatively small fall in income.
He said one unnamed Christian charity had also seen a steep decline in legacy income – from £2m to £120,000 over the same period.
"It is totally unpredictable," said Radcliffe, who has 20 years of experience in legacy fundraising. "How can you plan legacy income? It used to wobble, but it never used to go up and down so much."
He said the volatility was happening, unsurprisingly, because of the recession. "No one is making any long-term decisions," he said. Factors such as rising care costs and older people wanting to help their grandchildren with tuition fees or property were all playing a part, he said.
Radcliffe, who carries out focus groups with donors as part of his work, said he had seen a change in people’s behaviour in relation to charity beneficiaries in their wills.
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