WHEN it comes to leaving a legacy to our church, or favourite charity, most of us appear to be more generous in thought than in reality.
”Thirty-seven per cent of people think it is a good idea to leave a legacy to charity, but only seven per cent actually do it,” Howard Barker explains. He is a spokesman for Christian Legacy, a network of several Christian charities that have come together to encourage people to consider leaving money in their will to charities or a church.
”Charities and churches really rely on income from legacies: we are trying to get people to prayerfully consider it,” he says. “Some people don’t have any close relatives to leave money to, and it may be more satisfactory for them to leave it to their favourite charity instead of some distant relative they don’t know. We aren’t pushy, but we hope people will think about it.”
About £2.2 billion a year is left in legacies to charity, but only a relatively small amount of that is left to Christian charities, who are less well-resourced when it comes to encouraging legacies. The organisation Legacy Foresight, which examines legacy statistics, says that faith-based legacies are worth about £270 million a year. Some of the better known animal charities, in contrast, get 85 per cent of their income from legacy giving. While Christians do tend to leave more legacies, and share it out among more charities, women tend to be more generous than men.
Christian Legacy’s latest survey suggests that 65 per cent of women who say they are Christian included a charitable gift in their will, compared with 35 per cent of men. It also revealed that people who leave charitable legacies are likely to leave gifts to more than one charity, and Christians are likely to spread their gifts across almost twice as many charities as non-Christians.
A study by the Cabinet Office and the Charities Aid Foundation has looked at the difference that solicitors can make if they ask people whether they have thought about leaving money to charity. If people were asked outright when making their wills, their likelihood of leaving a legacy rose by seven per cent, and, if they were asked if there were any charities that they felt strongly about, legacy giving rose by 14 per cent.
”It proves that the old ‘If you don’t ask, then you don’t get,’ is true,” Mr Barker says. “People tend to make three wills in their lifetime: the first in their thirties, when they have children; the second when they retire — and that is when charities may appear for first time; and the third one aged about 80, when perhaps they lose their partner and then they think again about leaving money to charity.”
Legacy Foresight has predicted a doubling of charitable giving through legacies in the next few decades, as the generation of baby-boomers (those born roughly between 1946 and 1964) begins to die. This generation accounts for 22 per cent of the UK’s population, and holds a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth — and the number predicted to die childless is expected to climb steadily from 2030.
The Church of England is one of those charities that may benefit. Its own legacy income, spread across all its churches, passed the £50-million mark last year.
The Church’s national legacy and funding officer, Eleanor Gill, says: “The legacy market has been dominated by large household-name charities for the past 25 years. However, Christians have been leaving gifts in their wills to churches for hundreds of years. In most churches, you can spot a plaque on a wall referring to a legacy once left. On average, most wills have at least three charitable bequests; therefore, many people choose to remember their favourite charitable causes, as well as their local church.
”The Church of England encourages parishes to talk about gifts in wills because, for some — but not all — people, it is a final opportunity to make a lasting gift to God. For some people, it is an appropriate way of giving to their church, and for many churches who receive a legacy, they are able to make a real difference to the future of their church and community.”
‘A legacy brings hope’
Kathy Childress lost her 14-year-old daughter, Esther, to a rare bone cancer. Just before Esther died, she started to fund-raise, in order to leave money to charity
ESTHER battled cancer for 16 months, and gave her life and her heart very firmly to God in those last months. One day, when we were going on the train on holiday, we saw a Christian Aid poster saying: ‘For £3 you can save a life, by buying a mosquito net.’ It really lit a spark in Esther, and she started to do lots of fund-raising: selling cakes, running a stall at church. She ended up with £4000.
Ten days before she died, I heard her dictating her will to her dad, and heard her mention Christian Aid. That poster had had such an impact on her. She knew she had freely received from God, and wanted to freely give; she knew she was in God’s hands. Esther’s money bought 998 nets for Nigeria, plus it paid for three volunteers to travel around and train communities in how to use them.
I was invited to go on a trip with Christian Aid to see the impact that legacies were having on communities. And I now work in the legacies team for the charity. I can tell people I understand how they feel.
I know that by leaving a legacy, it is not the end, that it will go on. And that it brings hope.
‘A legacy is lovely for the congregation’
The effects of even a small legacy on a church can be long lasting, as the Revd Sue Clarke, Priest-in-Charge of St Michael and All Angels, Thornhill, in Dewsbury, discovered .
A SMALL amount of money was left to St Michael and All Angels by a former music teacher in a local school, who had never married.
She had written the legacy into her will in the 1970s, and suggested then that the money should be spent on new altar frontals. When she died many years later, however, the money would not have covered the cost of the material.
Ms Clarke spoke to the executors, and they agreed that the money could be used to create a set of child-size vestments for schoolchildren to dress up in, as the church is regularly visited by school parties. The vestments are very well used and loved by the children.
The church does not get a lot of legacies, but it has had one other, more unusual one — in its timing at least.
One congregation member wanted to write into her will a legacy for the upkeep of the churchyard after her husband died. Her solicitor suggested that she could gift the money to the church before she died — and then enjoy seeing the benefits of it.
It has been wonderful. It’s a sizeable legacy, and it enabled us to do a lot of work in the churchyard. She has been able to be consulted on it, and see the benefits, too.
We are very grateful for all legacies that we receive. Everything we have bought with a legacy has been very well used, and it is lovely for the congregation, too: they remember the person who donated it in a very tangible way.