Giving While Living or Leaving It Behind?

It must be Autumn as I have started to see various campaigns urging me to write a will and remember a charity (generally a large national one) when I do so. It’s Free Wills Month in October and then there’s Will Aid in November. The awareness campaigns are important as research shows that although 35% of people want to leave money to charity in their will, only 6.3% do. But just how significant is legacy giving?

Lately there has been a rise in wealthy donors ‘giving while living’. One of the key exponents of this approach is Chuck Feeney of The Atlantic Philanthropies, and better known are the various giving pledges where you commit to give anywhere between 1% and 50% of your wealth to good causes. Some of the benefits of ‘giving while living’ are:

·         You can help tackle urgent problems that need action now

·         You get to direct your giving and enjoy the rewards it brings

·         It provides you with new learning and connections, purpose and meaning

·         You can add your own skills and experience to tackle problems

And it can take away the worry about burdening future generations with too much money.

Has this approach reduced the likelihood of people leaving a legacy?

My recent experience suggests not. I have had several conversations with potential philanthropists lately where helping younger generations get on the property ladder, contributing to university fees and uncertainty about the future (especially the costs of social care) have prevented them from wanting to make big donations now. They are much more likely to consider leaving a legacy as ‘giving while living’ feels too much of a risk.

But in fact, the statistics for the UK suggest that both are on the rise. The Coutts Million Dollar Donors report found that high value giving increased to £1.83bn in 2015. And the NVCO Almanac found that legacy income rose to £2.5bn in 2014/15, and according to Legacy Foresight is set to rise to £3.3bn by 2021. So it looks as if organisations working to bring about social change will benefit from both gifts today and bequests to come.

And if you are about to embark on writing or rewriting your will, I have one plea. Please take your time to choose the cause or charity who will receive your legacy. I recently spoke with a donor who confessed that they had given no thought to which charity they named in their will. They picked something familiar and it turned out that the one they chose did not even do what they thought it did. Legacies are too precious for that. Make sure your last act of generosity is fully aligned with your wishes and creates the most impact.