Giving back, even after you’re gone – Law News talks to ‘Include a Charity’

Everyone has causes that they care about – whether involving children, youth, the elderly, animals, the environment, community services, wellbeing and/or health. But, despite the general sense that it can be a rewarding and fulfilling thing to do, it seems that relatively few of us end up leaving something to our favourite charity after we pass on.

Include A Charity

Gifts in wills form the foundation of many New Zealand charities. As New Zealanders, we have a reputation for being a giving, friendly and generous nation, however, research indicates that only 8% of the wills that we leave behind make provision for charitable bequests. Apparently, we lag way behind in terms of bequests to charities – in the UK this figure is closer to 17% and in Australia it has climbed closer to 12% over recent years.

What is “Include A Charity”?

“Include A Charity” represents a growing group of charities who are running an integrated communication and social media campaign with the aim of increasing bequests in New Zealand from $150 to $300 million within six years. Even though a number of charities are individually running strong bequest campaigns, the overall awareness and level of bequesting remains low. By working together, Include A Charity hopes to do what no single charity has ever been able to achieve on its own – change the way New Zealanders think about including charities in their will, so that, in time, it becomes a normal thing for people to have on their radar.

Now in its third year, the collective approach is modelled on similar campaigns overseas, with some of New Zealand’s best-loved charities getting in behind it and combining their efforts and resources. Charities working together under the Include A Charity umbrella must also be members of The Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ), to give donors confidence that recipient organisations meet appropriate standards.

“When you think of what charitable gifts have done over time for society (think for example of our leading universities and schools and where they would be without years and years of alumni giving), you realise the importance of bequest and donations,” says Jim Datson, former Fundraising Manager for St John and current member of the board of trustees of Include A Charity.

Law News spoke with Mr Datson, along with fellow trustee and Fundraising Team Leader for the Mercy Hospice in Auckland, Sandy McGregor, about Include A Charity’s initiatives and how lawyers can help make a difference.

Giving trends – New Zealand vs overseas

Include A Charity’s work draws heavily on research into giving that has come out of other jurisdictions, primarily Australia and the United Kingdom. Those countries have low levels of charitable giving via wills, but not so low as in New Zealand. The research also shows that, over a period of five years, Australia managed to increase the proportion of people leaving gifts in their wills from 7% to 12%, as a result of similar methods to those being used by Include A Charity here.

Mr Datson and Ms McGregor are hopeful of a similar pattern of increased awareness and generosity in New Zealand. “As a result of the recent ‘Include A Charity Week’ campaign in September this year, we have seen a significant lift – about 8000 people have responded to us in some way,” says Mr Datson. “Even if only a small proportion of those 8000 do something about it, that is a move in the right direction.”

So why are New Zealanders “underperforming” in terms of charitable giving in their wills, as compared to our cousins overseas? Ms McGregor wonders whether it is “because we’re not asking”. Both consider that many people seem to be resistant to, or put off by, the word “bequest” – “It sounds better to talk about ‘leaving a gift in your will’,” they say. Mr Datson has also observed that the use of bequests as a method for funding charities, and charitable giving generally, are more mainstream in other countries like the UK, where you see lots more advertising about it.

It also appears that many Kiwis simply do not consider a bequest is an option, or think bequests are only for the rich. One of Include A Charity’s primary messages, therefore, is to let people know that many bequests are made by everyday New Zealanders who simply want to do something, however big or small, to make a positive difference to their community after they are gone. As Mr Datson says, “Any donation makes a difference, however small. Legacies give charities some stability in the face of the uncertainty of funding, and allow them to look ahead and plan for the future.”

A kind of “asking fatigue” may play a part as well – Mr Datson and Ms McGregor note that with some 27,000 charities in New Zealand, the amount of ongoing fundraising that is happening, and the number of times people may be asked to give money, is high. With day-to-day money worries and the general busy-ness of life, people may be unable to give to all those who ask during their lifetime, but bequesting presents a completely different option. “With the volume of ‘asking’ they get on a daily basis, people are not necessarily going to be thinking laterally about what they could do after they’re gone, even if they can’t do it now,” says Mr Datson.

Data from 2014 from Charities Services at the Department of Internal Affairs shows that total revenue from bequests in New Zealand reached almost $200 million in 2014, with an average per organisation of over $200,000 and a median per organisation of around $14,000. Although the data is not broken down into how many bequests there were nor how much each person gave, by looking at the median figure, it seems likely that most gifts in wills were relatively modest, supporting Include A Charity’s message that giving is something anyone can do and that every little bit helps.

“If the proportion of people making gifts in their wills increased from 7% to 14%, the estimated total pool of charitable giving by bequest could rise to $300 million over time,” says Mr Datson. That amount of money would make a huge difference to the positive work New Zealand charities could do in the future.

Forging donor/donee relationships

Include A Charity started out with a group of charities in Auckland who were concerned at low numbers of bequests, misconceptions about the process and the lack of communication between those leaving gifts and those receiving them. As Mr Datson says, “Bequests were being received but the charities found that often they had no relationship with the donor, and wanted to improve that situation.”

There are many reasons why people may want to leave a gift in their will, whether they hope to make a difference to society, support an organisation that helped them or a loved one, or to be remembered in years to come, but if the charity is unaware of the motivating factors behind the gift, they cannot be taken into account when it is used.

“Historically, there has been a separation between the donor and his/her adviser, on the one hand, and the recipient charity, on the other. Often, charities first learn about a bequest when they receive it – there has not been that element of connection with the donor that they would have liked,” says Mr Datson.

Include A Charity is trying to encourage people to tell the charity what they hope to do and establish a relationship with it, so that the charity can say “thank you” and engage in a conversation about how the donor wants the money spent – more rewarding for everyone. “Learning about someone’s motivations for giving gives so much more life to the whole thing,” say Mr Datson and Ms McGregor.

Charity

What can lawyers do?

Mr Datson and Ms McGregor hope that Include A Charity’s efforts will lead to more people asking for legal advice about how to leave something behind them. In turn, they hope that lawyers will ask their clients the question “Have you considered leaving a gift in your will?”, and encourage them to get in touch with Include A Charity as the central point to help them think about their charitable giving. Simply beginning the dialogue can be the first step to getting people to think about leaving a gift as something they can actually do.

Include A Charity has a number of resources which can assist lawyers in helping their clients consider these issues. Lawyers can also order leaflets from Include A Charity to pass on to their clients, which explain in plain English what Include A Charity is all about.

“Every solicitor in the country should have received one of our brochures during the recent ‘Include A Charity Week’ in September,” says Ms McGregor. “The feedback has been very positive – lawyers have been telling us that it suits them well to be able to give their clients one brochure rather than have a whole rack of brochures from different charities. The advantage of Include A Charity is that we are able to help solicitors in an independent way, rather than the solicitor having to engage separately with numbers of organisations.”

Some of the best times to raise these kinds of questions may be at the various “prompt points” in people’s lives when they might (or should) be thinking about making or updating their wills. “We want to get this into people’s ‘line of sight’ at those points,” says Mr Datson. Common trigger points for writing or re-writing wills include (unsurprisingly), personal illness, the death of friend or relative, sorting out a relative’s estate, marriage or relationship changes, having children, long-distance travel plans and buying a house. “Our message to those making their wills at those times is to make sure that their families come first, but then, that they might consider leaving something to a charity. We also want to encourage people that making a will can be a simple process,” says Ms McGregor.

“From the point of view of the giver, the legacies they leave behind – to family first and then to other donees – are the accumulation of their lifetime, and obviously should not be used frivolously. I liken it to a baton race – charities are only able to do what they can today because of the generosity of the previous generation – but the passing of the baton requires two hands. Now, we want to encourage the next generation to look at how they can do the same for the future,” says Mr Datson.

For more information, please visit www.includeacharity.org.nz/. You can also use this link to find out more about the charities involved.

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