A change in legacy giving habits is leading charities to review the way they are asking for donations.
Some may take the news that the RNLI has lost 13 per cent of its will bequests as a sign that all is not well in the legacy market.
However, the charity believes that this decline reflects a sector-wide shift in the nature of legacy donations rather than an overall decrease in the area. David Brann, the new director of fundraising and communications at the lifeboat charity, says that the recent fall is an indication that the public is starting to leave money to different types of organisations.
"Until now we've been receiving legacy donations from a generation who lived through World War I and the Great Depression and who shared and empathised with our strong civic values," explained Brann. "Charities such as ourselves and the Royal British Legion benefited tremendously from the social mindset that was geared towards protecting and promoting what they saw as national interests."
Over the past 20 years, people have started to become less focused on community or national concerns, and are more likely to leave money to a cause that has had a direct impact on their lives. "People in their sixties and seventies have a very different experience of life and different values to their parents," said Brann.
He believes that environmental charities, hospices and medical research charities will gradually catch up with charities such as the RNLI, which in the past have had the luxury of raking in millions through legacies without much promotion.
Sally Burrows, head of legacies at WWF-UK, has seen legacy income steadily increase by about £50,000 per year. She believes that the surge of interest in green issues in the 80s contributed to the rise, but also believes that the charity's work creating and communicating clear brand values is also starting to pay off. "Leaving a legacy is the ultimate statement of faith in an organisation," she said. "People will be more inclined to give if they feel confident that their money will be used appropriately and they trust the judgement of the organisation.
"Although we have tentatively started cold legacy drives, I'm not convinced that this is the right way to go about things," she continued. "Raising and maintaining a high public profile is more of an investment than pouring money into direct mail campaigns."
But Duncan Green, director-general at Battersea Dogs Home, believes that his charity will continue to maintain its disproportionately high legacy income, which accounts for 95 per cent of voluntary income.
"Ever since I joined in 1993, people have been talking gloom and doom about legacies," he said. "This is simply not the case with us, as we're registering a increase year on year."
Green believes that this is partly because leaving money to Battersea is seen as a "safe bet", but also because it has kept its proposition plain and relevant to a large number of people.
Brann believes that charities cannot afford to be complacent. The increasing interest in the sector plus the market becoming more crowded means that people are starting to split legacy money between two or three organisations instead of leaving a lump sum to a favourite cause.
"Ironically, the success of charities' proactive legacy marketing has been that people are giving the same amount, but that more organisations are starting to benefit from will bequests," he said.
Brann believes that organisations which aren't currently legacy marketing should start to do so. As chairman of the recently launched Legacy Promotion Campaign, a consortium of charities working to boost public awareness of charitable will bequests, he believes that the initiative gives smaller voluntary organisations a golden opportunity to kick-start their legacy income.
"With 89 charities all working towards the same aim, there's no doubt that the Legacy Promotion Campaign is going to have an impact on the public psyche, and the RNLI hopes to boost its legacy income this way" he said.
"Groups such as HIV and Aids charities which haven't had the opportunity to construct solid legacy strategies have a real opportunity to ride in the wake of the bigger organisations and feed off the heightened public awareness."
However, Jacqui Scott, individual giving manager at the Terrence Higgins Trust, isn't convinced.
"Although we're developing a new legacy structure, I can't see us ever running a large-scale public appeal as we simply wouldn't get the returns," she said. "The basic fact is that that most people choose to ignore the HIV and Aids issue and we're experiencing decreasing public support."
The example of the RNLI illustrates that even charities with a healthy income should look carefully at their approach. Brann believes that one way charities can improve legacy income is by reviewing the way they approach people for will donations. He acknowledges that the RNLI will have to do this in order to protect its income levels.
"We've basically got to start working a bit harder to understand why people would decide to think of the RNLI when writing their will," he said. "Hopefully initiatives such as the Legacy Promotion Campaign will teach us a bit about what works and what doesn't."