Charities could generate an extra £4bn in donations if people were reminded to leave gifts in their wills, according to a trial by the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team, known as the 'nudge unit'.
The finding was made as part of a study carried out by the team in partnership with the Charities Aid Foundation and the University of Bristol’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation, for the report Applying Behavioural Insights to Charitable Giving.
It was one of five trials on charitable giving, conducted around the country, that found simple messages could encourage people to increase their regular donations or the numbers of people joining fundraising initiatives.
The legacy giving trial, conducted in partnership with the legacy giving charity Remember A Charity and Co-operative Legal Services, found that people were three times more likely to include gifts to charity in their wills if solicitors or will-writers reminded them to do so.
The trial covered 1,000 new wills and was designed to assess the effectiveness of a new policy of suggesting the possibility of legacy giving when a will is being written.
According to the study, 5 per cent of people left legacy gifts without being prompted by solicitors. This rose to 11 per cent when solicitors or will-writers asked if they had considered leaving any money to charity, and to 15 per cent when they were asked: "Many of our customers choose to leave money to charity in their wills – are there any causes you’re passionate about?"
An additional £1m of gifts was left to charities in wills as a result of the trial alone.
Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: "The results show that if solicitors simply ask people to consider leaving gifts, then this gap closes significantly. It is clearly a suggestion that people are warm to, and many more include gifts to charity as a direct result."
The charity is calling for all solicitors and will-writers to remind their clients that leaving gifts in their wills is a way of continuing to support their favourite causes after they’re gone.
Another of the trials, on payroll giving, conducted with the Charities Trust, a payroll-giving agency, and the Home Retail Group, tested the effect of enrolling individuals in a scheme that automatically increased donations by 3 per cent a year unless the donor opted out.
It found that the proportion of new donors signing up for automatic increases rose to 49 per cent, from 6 per cent using an opt-in system. If this was brought in across all payroll-giving and direct-debit schemes, it could raise an extra £40m for charities per year, the study found.
Another trial carried out with 1,500 HM Revenue & Customs employees found that if a photograph of an employee who gave to charity was included in email communications with potential donors, the proportion of people signing up to payroll giving more than doubled, from 2.9 per cent to 6.4 per cent.
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: "This report shows that a good legacy fundraising appeal can both triple the number of people leaving gifts to charity and double the amount given. It could in theory mean an extra £4bn for charities every year."
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said the research showed "how generous people are prepared to be, if asked in the right way".
Figures from Legacy Foresight, released earlier this month, showed that combined legacy income in the year to the end of March was £1.044bn, up 1.4 per cent on the figure of £1.029bn for the previous 12 months.