Can we teach old dogs new tricks? Increasing giving through Wills

We’re delighted to have this guest post from Ross Anderson, Director on the Board of the Include a Charity campaign and Christopher Baker, a Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy. There are few people in Australia better placed to talk about charitable giving via Wills.

We all know that there is significant demographic change underway in Australia.  The next decade will see Australia’s population exceed 25 million and age dramatically. It will also see members of the population boom that followed the end of World War II (Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964) firstly retiring and then ultimately passing away in increasingly large numbers.

Baby Boomers currently comprise 24% of our population, yet they own over 50% of our nation’s private wealth. By 2020, when most of those ‘never-grow-old’ Baby Boomers will be in their 60’s and 70’s, we will witness the start of the biggest inter-generational wealth transfer in our history.

No wonder charities are stepping-up their efforts to generate increased income from gifts in Wills. This is one of the most logical and obvious sustainable funding strategies that they could possibly adopt given these demographic predictions. But we must act together now to truly harness the powerful philanthropic effects of an increasing mortality rate and the intergenerational transfer of huge wealth that is anticipated to occur over the next 40 years.

What do we know about this form of philanthropy?

Not that much as it happens. We know that charitable giving through Wills in Australia is wildly out of kilter with levels of ‘giving whilst living’ via the support we give to charities whilst we’re alive.

The latest ATO figures show that 4.4 million Australian taxpayers (or 35.55% of the Australian taxpaying population) made tax-deductible donations totalling $1.96bn in 2009-10. Other studies estimate that almost 90% of us support charities in some shape or form.

So why is it that only 7% of us have been sufficiently inspired to include gifts to our favourite charities in our Wills?

A detailed study at Swinburne University of Technology of 1,700 Victorian wills has provided the statistical evidence for what you might have already expected to hear.   The overwhelming majority of us leave all of our accumulated wealth to our immediate family members: first to our spouses, then to our children.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much wealth we’ve accumulated or whether or not we have contributed generously and passionately to charitable causes throughout our lives, when it comes to dividing up our estates – charities essentially don’t get a look in.

The question this raises is whether or not f this role modelling by older Australians has  doomed future generations to repeat this same pattern of estate-planning and overlook charitable giving  in their Wills too?

Let’s be clear, of course looking after our families comes first in most cases.   Adequately providing for those who are dependent on our financial support during our lifetimes is an important aspect of our estate-planning and decision-making. Our current family provision legislation and our ability to challenge the final wishes set out in our Wills ensures that the legal system makes this a reality.

There are however more significant levels of charitable giving through Wills in comparative countries:

In the UK, despite the fact that a very healthy looking 16% of British Wills that went into probate last year contained charitable gifts, the UK Government has introduced substantial financial incentives in an attempt to encourage further giving from personal estates to charitable causes (see www.legacy10.com  for more information).

In the US, the latest figures show that charitable giving through American Wills increased over 12% in the last year to a total of US$24.41 billion.

With our current levels of giving, Australia sits very low down on the league table of charitable giving from Wills.  We don’t believe this is something to be proud of.  We do see it however as a significant opportunity to improve.  The big question we face is “What we can do to inspire more Australians to leave money to charitable causes in their Wills?”

So, what can we do?

Many Australians will be shocked to learn that so few of us make any charitable provision what-so-ever in our Wills.  Given our self-perception as a generous nation, it is unlikely that most of us actually take a considered decision to specifically exclude charities; low participation rates are far more likely to come as a result of a general lack of awareness or falsely perceived barriers getting in the way.

Our current behaviour is unlikely to change without a collaborative and systematic approach to improving our attitude towards charitable giving through our Wills.  This is not an either / or decision. The challenge is not to try and get Australians to leave their entire estates to charities instead of their families.  The challenge is to get most of us to a point where we can consider leaving most of our estates to our families AND to include gifts as a small portion of our estates to our favourite charities.

The Include a Charity campaign (www.includeacharity.com.au) is a practical response to that very challenge. With some realistic, measurable and achievable goals in its attempts to bring about wide-scale social change, this is one of the only true cross-sector initiatives led by 140 Australian charities. With ambitious plans for further collaborative, collective joint impact initiatives, this is one social change campaign to watch.

The campaign has already delivered a wide range of targeted activities to introduce the idea of including charitable gifts in the nation’s Wills to a wider public audience. It is also seeking to increase the skills and sophistication of all in the sector in our efforts to encourage more Australians to take the step of including a charity when preparing their Wills.

We know that the challenge of tipping the very strong prevailing social norm in estate-planning away from thinking about “family only” and towards thinking in terms of “family first, philanthropy second” is large indeed.  It is important to the sector and to wellbeing of Australian society that we are able to make some significant inroads to change the current behaviour in estate-planning.

Arguably we have a window of opportunity to change Australian’s attitudes towards charitable gifts in their Wills of some 10 years.  If Baby Boomers start to include more charitable gifts in their Wills now, the sector will start to receive significantly increased income from this generation over the next 10-20 years.

We’d like to hear from you

The Include a Charity campaign is open to your suggestions and ideas.  We’d love to hear your reflections on what you think is needed to change our behaviour.

  •  How can we work together to inspire older Australians to act philanthropically, supporting their favourite causes at the same time as making sure their families are provided for?
  • Are Australian children entitled to challenge their parents from “spending the kids’ inheritance”?
  • Does the Government have a role to play in incentivising more charitable giving through Wills?

You can continue this conversation with Ross and Chris via the comments section below, or chat with them on Twitter via @ChristopherSWIN and @rossandersonIAC


Leopards can change their spots…

I have just been reading the fantastic conference program for the recent European Foundation Centre Conference in Belfast. From 6-8 June 2012, more than 500 foundation professionals from Europe and around the world gathered for the 23rd EFC Annual General Assembly and Conference to learn about, share and debate issues surrounding peace and social justice and other pressing philanthropic topics, from education to the financial crisis.  Take a look….  Definitely one to think about for next year (30 May – 1 June in Copenhagen, Denmark)!!

One of the many fantastic concurrent sessions open to delegates was Shedding light on our own practice: the impact and effect of our own behaviour.  And it offers a nice follow-on from the Eggs’ most recent post,  The Never Changing World of Philanthropy .

Shedding Light is a research project supported by Adessium Foundation, FACT, Fondation Philanthropia Lombard Odier, Oak Foundation and Pears Foundation, and coordinated by European philanthro-gurus Judith Symonds, David Carrington and Karen Weisblatt.  It’s part of the European Philanthropy Learning Initiative, a relatively new initiative which aims to strengthen learning and knowledge about philanthropy in Europe, to help Foundations positively enhance what they do.*

Consultations with 26 Foundations of varying sizes, histories and priorities from across Europe were carried out, specifically in preparation for the EFC Conference.  Each Foundation was asked a series of detailed questions about their work, practises and performance, and the responses were used to formulate recommendations regarding the practical steps every Foundation could take to improve or change how they do their work, to help them achieve more.  The recommendations formed the basis of the session discussion.  Instant grant-making think-tank!

There were two major things that stood out from the consultations: the need to enhance opportunities for peer learning and the need to develop a community of practice. In fact, one of the key recommendations was that a group of foundations from across Europe should form a community of practice to lead by providing resources, working to a jointly agreed plan, celebrating and promoting learning initiatives, supporting new initiatives and encouraging other organisations to take action.  Session participants were invited to be creative and critical in response to the findings.  Wow.  I bet it was a very long, impassioned discussion!  It certainly would be here but it sounds like a conversation well-worth having if it helps us to improve what we do.

Discussions from the session will be fed into a final report which has an as yet unannounced publication date.  I’ll keep you posted!

*The European Philanthropy Learning Initiative is an informal collaboration of donors and consultants. The first stage of the initiative, which was launched in 2009, commissioned a report, The Application of Learning and Research to Philanthropy (David Carrington)

You can follow the musings of Claire Rimmer on Twitter via @ClaireMRimmer or the blog via @3eggphil