10 highlights from the new Literature Review into Legacy Giving

23 May 2018

There has been a proliferation of research into legacy giving and related areas, particularly over the last 10 years.

But much of this research is hard to access and little understood which is a real problem for fundraisers and the non-profit sector as a whole.

It is a problem because the more we learn about legacy giving, the more we understand that it is completely different to lifetime giving. And without a better understanding into the how, what and why of legacy giving, we will be completely ineffective as fundraisers. This could cost the sector literally billions of pounds in lost funding, given the transfer of wealth that is projected to take place in the UK over the next 20-30 years.

But there is hope for fundraisers thanks to the publication of a world’s-first literature review into legacy giving, commissioned by Legacy Voice and carried out by Professor Adrian Sargeant and Dr Claire Routley at the University of Plymouth’s philanthropy team.

In it you will find masses of information from more than 160 published papers across fundraising, marketing, sociology, psychology and behavioural economics.

Below we have highlighted 10 things you can learn from research, which we hope can help you grasp the opportunity that legacy giving has to offer. Not just in financial terms for your organisation, but also for the many positive ways legacy giving can help your donors too.

  1. 75% of the population are actively motivated to die with a positive net worth and leave something behind for future generations.
  2. Legacy giving is proven to be good for you. Particularly later in life, it helps people age well, to find a new sense of purpose and even increases self-esteem.
  3. Most of your donors are good legacy prospects. While people are naturally older when they die and finally leave a gift to charity, people of all ages can and do make charitable wills. By the age of 40, most people will have experienced a life change that puts them in a position to contemplate making a will and therefore a charitable gift.
  4. The biggest barrier to will making is apathy, with most people saying they haven’t got round to it yet. The biggest barrier to leaving a gift to charity in a will is having children.
  5. Effective legacy giving language is completely different, opposite even, to effective lifetime giving language. If our fundraising communications fail to reflect this fact they will be completely ineffective.
  6. Stories and storytelling is proven to be a very effective technique in legacy fundraising. Tapping into the life story of a donor, and the power of social norming, we find that the more stories we tell, and the more the story reflects the readers own life, the more they are likely to consider a legacy gift themselves.
  7. Potential legacy donors highly scrutinize the organisations they give to and are concerned by issues of trust, the quality of communications they receive and the impact of charity programmes. They can undertake extensive research before they give, and even deliberately test the organisation to gauge their responsiveness.
  8. There is growing evidence of the importance of stewardship in legacy giving. Organisations that invest in stewardship convert more supporters into legacy donors and of a higher value.
  9. While the last will distributes the estate to charity, there is good evidence that gifts in earlier wills can remain for life and those that do increase in value. A long-term approach to a younger audience with a focus on stewardship can be an effective strategy.
  10. Donors don’t want public displays of recognition for their legacy gifts, which they consider as ostentatious, but instead prefer more subtle ways to remember their gift (or that of a loved one) such as communal memorials or events to see the impact of a gift up close.


A full copy of the legacy giving literature review is available to download at http://legacyvoice.co.uk/legacy-giving-research/

Ashley Rowthorn, Director at Legacy Voice