Why solicitors play a key role in charitable giving
Rob Cope explains how simply raising the option of legacy giving with clients can increase the number of gifts made to charity
The British public has a strong culture and tradition of charitable giving. Legacy giving, once the domain of wealthy philanthropists, has become increasingly important to UK charities, generating around £2.5bn in income per year.
The impact on charitable services is immense, with gifts in wills supporting a third of Cancer Research UK’s life-saving research; two in three guide dogs; one in six children in NSPCC care; and, increasingly, many smaller and community-based charities.
While there has been a steady increase in the number of people choosing to include a charity in their will, we are far from a place where legacy giving is the norm. Our research shows that while 35 per cent say they would be happy to leave a gift in their will, only 6.3 per cent of people actually do.
One of the biggest challenges for gifts in wills is that donors often think it’s not for people like them. There are widely held misconceptions that gifts have to be large amounts or that the donor has to choose between giving to their family or their favourite charities.
The reality, however, is very different. Even a small amount can make an enormous difference. And the donor should be always encouraged to protect their loved ones first – and then consider their favourite charities.
At Remember A Charity, we are working towards normalising legacy giving. We estimate that just a 4 per cent increase in the number of people leaving money to charity in their will would equate to an additional £1bn per year.
Role of solicitors
The legal sector has a crucial role to play here, which is why we are delighted to have the continued support of the Law Society and the Law Society of Scotland. Professional advisers can help their clients include everything they care about in their will, simply by making them aware of the option of including a charity.
The biggest challenge, however, is that many solicitors still don’t mention charitable giving as a possibility to their clients. Many clients simply don’t realise that legacy giving is an option for them, and that they can provide for family and friends and still have the opportunity of including a charity if they wish to do so.
A groundbreaking study, conducted in 2013 with the Co-operative Legal Services, offered the first evidence of what might happen if solicitors simply mentioned the possibility of charitable giving. It found that when clients were routinely asked if they wanted to make a bequest, once they’d taken care of loved ones, it trebled the number of people who left a charitable gift.
This study powerfully demonstrated that if solicitors start talking to people about charitable bequests, it can have a major influence on whether or not they leave money to charity.
Recent research by the Behavioural Insights Team and the University of Bristol has since supported this work, showing how solicitors can play a vital role in helping clients leave gifts to their favourite charities in their wills. The report found a 40 per cent increase in legacy giving from first-time will writers when solicitors ‘normalised’ gifts in wills. Solicitors feel able to raise the issue of leaving money to charity ‘comfortably and appropriately’, the researchers found.
The research, presented at the Law Society, also surveyed the public on their views about solicitors raising the issue of leaving money to charity. According to the survey, 69 per cent of people indicated that they would be happy for their solicitor to raise the issue, while 46 per cent thought a solicitor had ‘a duty’ to raise the option of giving to charity when discussing a will.
Writing a will is an important step in ensuring that the people, and causes, we have cared about will be properly looked after when we pass away. Solicitors have a vital role to play in this process, using their legal knowledge and experience to give our clients the reassurance that their wishes will be properly carried out. Our research shows that for many clients, their wishes also include taking care of their favourite charities. They just need to be reminded of all the options available to them.
Rob Cope is director of Remember A Charity, a consortium of charities which is part of the Institute of Fundraising