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Has the cost of living hit the will to give?

by
28 October 2022

Is the present cash crisis affecting Christian charities’ legacy income, asks Clive Price

Tearfund/Tom Price

In Burundi, the inflation rate reached a new high of 19.57 per cent in August; food inflation stood at 24.2 per cent. Here, adults and children attend a food security and nutrition project in their village, where a Tearfund partner explains how to make a nutritious porridge from ground peanuts, soya, and maize

In Burundi, the inflation rate reached a new high of 19.57 per cent in August; food inflation stood at 24.2 per cent. Here, adults and children attend...

LEGACIES help charities to help others. Now, legacy giving may need help to survive the UK’s cost-of-living crisis.

Charities are reflecting on how legacy income might be affected by what the money-saving guru Martin Lewis calls a “national financial cataclysm” that will occur over the coming months.

The cost-of-living crisis has grown since October 2021, with a global spike in the wholesale price of gas, Brexit-related disruptions to supply chains, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and soaring rates of inflation.

How will legacy giving be affected, as parents feel their children might need more? Are charities concerned?

World Vision UK has been working with poor communities around the world since 1950, and its child-sponsorship scheme has helped millions. Its chief executive, Mark Sheard, is a member of the Archbishops’ Council.

The charity says that is not seeing any change in legacy giving. Its director of public engagement, Ben Nolan, said: “In fact, we are seeing more and more people choosing to leave a gift to World Vision in their will, and last year over £1 million was donated this way.”

But World Vision UK does not take this for granted: “We’re incredibly grateful, and continue to pray for all those facing a difficult winter, both here and overseas,” Mr Nolan said.

He admitted that legacies were still vulnerable. “With legacy donations being linked to the value of people’s houses, if house prices decrease, it could also lower the overall amount people have to leave in their will.”

The charity is seeing more people choose to leave a “residual” legacy by specifying a percentage rather than a fixed sum for charity. “As of now, the economic turmoil has not had a significant impact on our overall income,” Mr Nolan said. But World Vision continues to monitor the situation.

Meanwhile, its work is as challenging as ever. “The world is facing an ever-growing number of crises,” Mr Nolan warned: “global hunger, worsening climate change, and armed conflict.”

The Children’s Society has been helping British households in poverty since 1881 when it was founded for “Waifs and Strays”. Back then, it was a Church of England Sunday-school teacher, Edward Rudolf, who saw the effects of poverty on children — and decided to respond.

Legacy giving remains one of the Society’s biggest growth areas, as it continues to help children. The director of community mobilisation and engagement, Lisa Jakimciw, believes that, in times of uncertainty, people often focus on short-term outgoings rather than charity giving.

Church Homeless Trust A beneficiary of support from the Church Homeless Trust chats to a staff member

But growth in legacy income usually mirrors the economy. “The legacy market is forecasting a short-term reduction in income due to the predicted fall in property prices, which is often the major asset of an estate,” Ms Jakimciw said.

“However, legacy income is very unpredictable, as only a very small portion of legators actually make an active pledge in their lifetime.” So, it is challenging for them to gauge whether the cost-of-living crisis is already having an impact on legacies.

While the Society is concerned about effects on income streams, its knows that those who leave something in their will often have a close personal connection with it. Legacy decisions are considered over a long time.

“Strategically, we will be looking at the longer-term opportunities with legacy gifts, as we know our loyal supporters, with a close connection to the charity, are unlikely to remove their long-term support — unless their situation changed significantly,” Ms Jakimciw said.

Tearfund has more than 50 years of experience in international development. One of its ‘strategic allies’ is the Anglican Alliance, which brings together development, relief, and advocacy work in the Anglican Communion.

“God has given us responsibility for our families; so they have to be provided for first,” Tearfund’s head of church and supporter relations, Ruth Tormey. “But, even when we are going through hard times in this country, we are still rich in comparison with many of our brothers and sisters in the less economically developed countries where Tearfund works.”

She said that Tearfund was “blessed not to see a decrease in legacies at the moment”, thanks to its supporters, who “give sacrificially . . . to be God’s hands and feet in the world through the local church”.

Tearfund finds that people tend to write gifts into their wills about seven years before their death. So, the charity would not expect to see a change in current legacy income just yet.

“When our supporters face a squeeze on their day-to-day finances, they often see legacies as a way they can continue to demonstrate their belief that everything in this world is a gift from God,” Mrs Tormey said.

The charity is concerned, but remains positive in its outlook. “Tearfund’s supporters remain loyal and incredibly generous,” Mrs Tormey said. “We are praying they will fare well in this difficult economic season.”

Even if legacies remain stable, demands on their resources do not. There are rising calls on Tearfund to respond to challenging situations around the world. “The fall in the pound relative to other currencies and global inflation is a big issue,” Mrs Tormey said.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has been providing free professional debt help through UK churches since 1996. The charity is listed on the “community agencies” page of the national Church of England website as a potential partner for congregations.

To explore the need, CAP commissioned the market researchers YouGov to carry out a poll in the UK in August. Most respondents said that they had been financially affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

Almost eight million people are estimated to be going without heating or electricity completely — and a similar amount are skipping meals. Almost 20 million people have cut out socialising and leisure altogether.

“We’re a relatively young charity. We’ve been going for 26 years; so our legacy income is a small proportion of our overall income,” the head of fund-raising and supporter development, Alex Jones, said. “But it has been growing, and we’ve seen growth in the number of people enquiring about legacies and leaving gifts to CAP in their wills.”

World Vision/Ben AdamsA World Vision-sponsored child, Arya, who is aged eight, is a third-grade student in the Nagpur Area Development Programme, in India

The motivation? “People will often think about what they want to leave for their families, but also have dreams and visions of what the world might be like — and want to do something with their estate,” Mr Jones said.

“We’ve benefited hugely from people that have been quite close supporters of our work, or have had family members benefit from our work, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of people who want to leave that kind of gift.”

People are changing their preferences in more general giving, too. They are reducing or even stopping donations. CAP has struggled to recruit new regular givers. “On the flip side, we have seen people switch to more one-off giving,” Mr Jones said.

He pointed to recent findings from Legacy Foresight, which discovered a backlog of 24,000 probate cases at HM Courts and Tribunals Service. Clearing that blockage could release a flow of funds to charities over coming months.

The Church Homeless Trust has its roots in the 19th-century work among London’s homeless by the founder of the Church Army, the Revd Wilson Carlile. As an independent charity without central church funding, it continues to make grants to homeless people.

The Trust had also been working on homelessness prevention; but it made the tough decision to focus solely on those who had already lost their homes.

The executive director, Miriam Morris, said that the Trust received about five mainly small legacies a year to help to fund those grants. “Every now and again, we’ll have one, like we had two years ago, for £350,000,” she said. It was hard to chart a trend, as legacies came “out of the blue”.

Ms Morris believes, however, that we are seeing an end to a wartime generation of single women who have been legacy-givers. Increasingly, people may not end up leaving something in their will to a charity.

For those who do pass on a gift, it will be pecuniary, not residual: i.e., it will be a set amount, instead of the leftovers after an estate’s liabilities are fulfilled.

“Residuals have been worth much more to us in the past, because it’s basically somebody’s house and shares and everything else,” Ms Morris said. “The people who will leave us something now are more likely to leave a pecuniary legacy — just as a token gesture — then leave the house and estate to relatives.”

She continued: “I don’t think the legacy benefit to charities is going to be as great as it has been in the past at all.”

The loss of regular givers — rather than legacies — is the big concern. “We’ve got regular givers who’ve been giving to us every month for 35 years. During Covid, they tended to be people who had more money, because they weren’t going out. But with the cost-of-living crisis, they are having to cut back. So, we’ve lost some regular givers.”

Such donors had been loyal over a long period. “Now, they can no longer afford to support us because they don’t know how they’re going to pay their gas bill,” Ms Morris said. “It seems a perfect storm.”

The strategy agency GOOD has found that legacy campaigns are still crucial, as one in five charity givers is likely to consider a legacy gift. But, as charities have explained, the pressure is on.

The CEO, Chris Norman, summed up the challenge: “The future for charity giving is more uncertain now than it has been for many years, and at a time when the demand for charities’ services is growing rapidly.”

 

Clive Price is communications manager of the Methodist Ministers’ Housing Society, a committee member of the Irish music festival Iúr Cinn Fleadh, and director of his own media consultancy.

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