Our legacy giving literature review brings together insights from over 150 academic articles – from fields such as fundraising, marketing, psychology and behavioural economics – into a single review of everything research can tell us about legacy giving today, and examines how this insight can inform bequest fundraising practice.
The original 2018 report has been read by thousands of fundraisers around the world and has recently been updated by Dr Claire Routley, Professor Adrian Sargeant, Dr Lucy Lowthian and Harriet Day to include a range of new insights from the last four years, and we are delighted to share it with you.
Here are a few highlights:
In the UK, the legacy marketplace is expected to grow, predicted by Legacy Foresight (2021) to more than double to £5.16 billion by 2030 (in constant prices).
- It is currently worth around £3.4 billion (Smee and Ford, 2021), or 14% of charities’ income (Legacy Foresight 2021).
- In 2020, almost 6% of decedents left legacy gifts (Smee and Ford 2021/ONS 2021) but there are encouraging signs that interest may be growing – the current rate of 6% is an increase from 4.6% of estates in 1997 (Smee and Ford 2021/ONS 2021).
- Research from the legacy consortium Remember a Charity (2019) suggests that 40% of people would consider such a gift.
Impact of the pandemic
As expected, the pandemic had an impact on will making more generally, bringing issues of illness, death, family and financial changes into stark reality.
- Research from Canada Life found that 44% of UK adults had written a will by March 2021, up from 41% the year before, with 26% of these prompted to do so during lockdown.
Charities play a role
Charities play an important role in the will making market, with 2020 Legacy Foresight research finding that 12% of all wills have been made using a free or subsidised charitable scheme, increasing to 35% amongst millennials.
- Legacy Foresight also found that earlier wills tend to act as holding documents, whereas wills written later in life are seen as more complete. This indicates the importance of maintaining strong relationships with supporters over a long period of time.
- 58% of those without a will in a large-scale representative study say they simply have not got around to it.
- In this context, easily accessible charitable schemes may have a role in encouraging the making of a first will and potentially the addition of a charitable gift.
- Research from Powell (2021) points to some common ‘rules’ of will making: on first death assets pass to the surviving spouse, then family, then charities. But more interesting for legacy fundraisers is the fact that wills are often forgotten, and with them charitable gifts, reinforcing the need for long term stewardship.
There certainly are demographic differences to legacy giving, and this can affect
- The belief that leaving an inheritance is important is highest at ages 30-39 (when just starting a family) and 80+ (at end of life), according to Rowlingson and Mackay (2015), suggesting that people might be more open to thinking about leaving something behind them at different life stages.
- McGranahan (2000) found that each additional month between writing and proving of the will increases the probability of giving by 0.1%, indicating the importance of long-term stewardship.
- James (2020) discovered that those with a charitable estate plan grow their net worth 50-100% faster than those without, theorising that this plays into a moral dimension to wealth, and the influence of generativity.
- The majority of studies show that women are more likely to leave legacies than men, as well as those who are wealthier, and more educated.
Some interesting insights came out in terms of psychological motivation and how charities can potentially increase interest in legacy giving whilst, at the same time, enabling their supporters to feel better.
- Nostalgia, meaning and memory disclosure are all important elements of ageing well, as well as being influences on the legacy giving decision. If fundraisers can encourage people to reflect on their lives they can help their supporters find meaning, as well as potentially encouraging giving.
- Enabling someone to leave a legacy in memory of a loved one can increase interest in legacy giving (James 2015) – through a tribute bequest people can honour those they love whilst supporting a charity at the same time.
- Shang (2019) explored the links between charitable giving and wider psychological wellbeing, through aspects such as competence, autonomy, relatedness, purpose in life and self-acceptance.
Thinking big picture
When it comes to legacy giving, it’s important to look at the bigger, more visionary picture (the abstract) rather than the specific details of a charity’s work (the concrete). This is the exact opposite of what is proven to work well in annual or immediate fundraising asks.
- Positioning charities as permanent entities with long term plans can align with a desire for symbolic immortality (Sargeant & Shang, 2008).
- Stressing how a gift might continue in perpetuity (James 2021) is therefore a good approach for fundraisers.
- Bringing out the values of the organisation, its ongoing mission, its broader social significance, and it’s forward-thinking approach, as well as linking to supporters’ values, self-definition, and ideal moral identity are likely to result in more take up of legacy giving – an approach that is different to annual appeals (Sargeant & Shang, 2008).
- Collaborative research between the Cabinet Office, Remember A Charity and Co-Operative Legal Services found that those encouraged with messaging that many people leave a gift in their will left twice as much as those not given this messaging. Fundraisers should also gather and share stories about people who are leaving gifts to help normalise the idea of gifts in wills.
Importance of ongoing stewardship
- Overall the research points to the need to provide an excellent donor experience and ongoing stewardship, that is differentiated based on demographic and engagement.
- 2019 research from Legacy Foresight showed that 46% of legacy fundraisers felt that stewardship doesn’t have sufficient priority – something that needs to change.
- Leaving a will isn’t a one-off task as the result of single thought, and neither should fundraising stewardship be.