Recently I spent a day reading through what ‘real life’ people had written in a legacy giving survey we had created for a client.
Survey packs aren’t really our style, to be fair. Yep, we get direct response. But not at any price. Getting people to tick a bunch of boxes so that we can prove we have generated a response isn’t much to be proud of. So, when we created our survey, we wanted to give supporters the chance to share what mattered to them.
Which is where my day with a bundle of survey responses came in.
An astonishing proportion of people say that leaving a gift to charity probably wasn’t right for them any more. And there was a surprising uniformity in their reasons. This was the generation who felt they were lucky enough to have bought their first homes 40 years’ ago and who really worry about the prospects for their children and grandchildren.
They believe that they have been the lucky ones and fear for the security of those in their family who follow them. Will they be able to afford to get on the property ladder? Will they have a secure income? What about paying for university education for the grandchildren? When did it become the norm for both parents to work and for young children to be in childcare just to sustain a roof over their heads?
As a result, many feel that they must pass on as much as they can to later generations, and pass on some of the benefit they had of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to the big financial things in life – like buying a home and having a decent enough pension.
Many of the older supporters wrote that they hope that their children and grandchildren know how much the charity meant to them and that they might choose to continue this support when the time comes for them to inherit. And perhaps they might make a donation to the charity in their memory.
Which got me thinking about values. The survey responses shed light on a generation who have seen it all. Or much more than you’d hope that they would have seen.
One chap said he’d been in a prisoner of war camp 70 years’ ago and knew what to truly value in life. Others talked about wanting common decency to come out of trying times. Like valuing the simple things in life over the material ones.
Which does point to a tension. In part the older generation feel that we have more material wealth than ever before but that we have lost sight of the stuff that matters. They feel that we face a hopeless uphill task securing our financial futures. So, when it comes to who benefits from their estate, they feel they are faced with a choice: Leave a gift to the charity that supported them (or their spouse) and reduce the wealth that they pass down the line. Or pass the maximum amount down the line and put aside their desire to help ‘their charity’ be there for other people.
Making or remaking a will is very rarely driven by what a charity has to say or offer. It’s the births, marriages, divorces, declining health, and deaths that usually provide the impetus. And with a backdrop of the gulf between rich and poor in this country being more marked than at any time in the last half century, who can blame folks for trying to protect their own and future proof them as much as they can in a world that seems more uncertain than ever?
As I write this, it feels reasonably safe to assume that charities will still get to benefit handsomely from gifts left by people with no family to leave their money too. The survey responses endorsed this. But it’s those people who have raised families and don’t want them to be short changed who will be harder to inspire and persuade.
Are your legacy marketing messages up to the task?