Reminders about tribute legacies increase donors' interest, research finds

A study in the US has found that alerting people to the fact they can leave legacies in honour of their loved ones increases their interest in setting up bequests to charities

Charitable bequests dominated by family connections
Charitable bequests dominated by family connections

Telling people they can leave a charitable legacy in honour of a family member increases their interest in doing so, according to research by Russell James, a professor at Texas Tech University.

The paper, The Family Tribute in Charitable Bequest Giving, published last month in the journal Nonprofit Management & Leadership, shows that people’s willingness to leave a legacy increased by an average of 10 points (on a scale of 0 to 100) when they were reminded of a connection between a friend or relative and a charitable cause.

A family connection to an elderly person’s charity might include having a mother who died in a care home, while having pets would constitute a person having a connection to an animal charity.

Based on a survey of 4,442 US-based adults, the research shows that people were more inclined to leave a legacy on behalf of a deceased friend or relative than a living one. People’s interest increased by 12 points when reminded about a deceased friend or relative’s connection compared to nine points when reminded of a living one.

The survey respondents were asked to rank, on a scale of 0 to 100, their willingness to include a gift to a set of charitable organisations in their will. They were then asked if there was a connection between their family and friends and various charitable causes. Those who identified such a connection to a cause were then asked to rate on the same scale their willingness to leave a legacy in tribute to that person.

The paper says that reminding people of a connection between a friend or relative and a particular message was effective for all types of causes and with people of all ages, but that certain causes, such as cancer and animals, were more likely to have a friend or family connection. Other issues, such as Aids research, had relatively few friend or family connections, but when people were reminded of these, the effect on their interest in making a gift was quite high, researchers found.

The paper also shows that people had a stronger desire to leave legacy gifts in honour of their older relatives, particularly grandparents, aunts and uncles or mothers, but almost no interest in leaving such gifts in honour of their younger relatives or friends.

"Encouraging tribute bequests in honour of children or friends appears to be a relatively poor strategy as compared with honouring older relatives," says the paper.

It also shows that the suggestion that someone could leave a gift in tribute was an effective way of increasing people’s interest in leaving a legacy even if other prior legacy marketing messages had already increased their intention to do so.

The paper says: "Friend/family tribute reminders are not simply substitutes for other pro-charitable bequest messages, but can be effectively used in addition to other messages."

But it adds that the use of tribute messages did not appear to be an effective strategy for encouraging current charitable giving.

The paper concludes: "Bequest giving is an area where family dominates. Not only can non-profit organisations concentrate on those supporters with no offspring, but this article provides evidence of a potentially effective message designed to intentionally place charity in the role of representing family members."

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