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Australians and Charitable Bequests - Report

17 November 2008 at 2:00 pm
Staff Reporter
The potential for bequests to contribute to the sustainability of Australian charities is immense according to new research which offers some surprising insight into just who might leave a bequest in their will.

Staff Reporter | 17 November 2008 at 2:00 pm


Australians and Charitable Bequests - Report
17 November 2008 at 2:00 pm

The potential for bequests to contribute to the sustainability of Australian charities is immense according to new research which offers some surprising insight into just who might leave a bequest in their will.

QUTs Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (CPNS) has released its report called Keeping Giving Going: Charitable Bequests and Australians by Dr Kym Madden and Dr Wendy Scaife.

The research explores the attitudes and behaviour of over 1000 charity donors, mainly located in New South Wales and Queensland, divided between “known bequestor” and “non-bequestor” donors.

The research found that the likelihood of an Australian leaving a charitable bequest in his or her will was strongly influenced by donors with one of two motivations – those who said they were motivated to leave a bequest because their family was already adequately provided for and those who had no family to provide for.

This broadens the stereotype of the typical charity bequestor in Australia. The likelihood of leaving a bequest also jumped amongst those who agreed that charity ‘performance’ was vital – e.g. who looked for charities that were well managed and got results – as well as amongst those who strongly believed in ‘reciprocity’ or giving back – e.g. they believed it important to give back to charities that had been helpful to them or those close to them.

The research also dismissed several myths about just who would leave a bequest.

While it is perhaps unsurprising that older donors without children were likely to leave a bequest, this study suggests that males and those on modest annual household incomes (under $52,000) were also highly likely to name a charity in their will.

For a substantial slice of all bequestors, their making a bequest was ‘triggered’ by several factors working together.

Dr Madden says the study shows that charitable bequestors do not need to be wealthy, and many are not.
She says there is a myth that a bequest to charity has to involve a large amount of money and, if you have family, you don’t do it. This study’s findings indicate that this is not true anymore, if this once was.
She says today’s bequest pledger commonly believes that a bequest can be given because family members will be well provided for.

Co-researcher Dr Wendy Scaife says the study shows that the decision to leave a bequest was driven by an individual’s values and a strong belief in the causes that were supported.
Dr Scaife says bequestors want to make an impact.
She says they see a bequest as a way to express what they believe in, and because a bequest is probably the largest monetary gift that most people will ever give, it is not a decision made lightly.
As well, she says those who name a charity in their will are particularly drawn to charities that have excellent reputations, good management and a focused mission. They want to know that their donations will achieve results.

Two of the most powerful influences were a donor’s belief in the cause or in the organisation, and the desire to help those in need into the future.

That the single greatest trigger for donors was will-making or remaking (nominated by 23% of bequestors) confirms what charities have known for a long time but reiterates just how integral the decision to name a charity in one’s will is to decision-making about one’s estate more generally.

The researchers say that huge potential lies in tapping the reported openness of donors to the notion of leaving a bequest.

While just over half of the entire sample had not made a charitable bequest, they were not necessarily against doing so. In response to the question ‘do you expect to leave a bequest?’ 61% of non-bequestors said either yes (16%) or maybe (45%).

The researchers say that there are still a large proportion of people who haven’t yet made up their minds.

The findings also show that only 9% of those who might or expected to leave a bequest thought they were likely to discuss it with a solicitor or other adviser in the coming 12 months.

The greater proportion (61%) described themselves as being very unlikely to have such a conversation in the near future. This is a reminder that while advisers will be important to those who are taking advice, other strategies need to be in place to interest the bulk of potential bequestors in the concept.

Those who expected to leave a bequest were significantly different from other non-bequestors on two fronts: they were more concerned about a charity’s performance and service quality (that the charity provides to them as donors), suggesting there is potential for charities to respond to these concerns.

Substantial differences in attitude arose between bequestors and non-bequestors as to whether they felt they could afford a bequest (90% of bequestors agreeing compared to 41% of non-bequestors), their liking of the idea (89% to 41%) and the perceived ease of doing so (86% to 41%).

However, many non-bequestors were undecided rather than negatively disposed to whether they could afford it, whether they liked the concept or if it was easy.

While a third of respondents were satisfied with communication from charities about bequests, some 44% believed improvements could be made. The most common were for charities not to push the idea on them too often, for greater awareness of bequests as a giving option, and for the case to make a bequest to be made more compellingly (for example, by demonstrating how bequest monies are spent).

A far larger proportion of bequestors than non-bequestors would inform the charity of their bequest (71% to 23%). However, the latter were mainly undecided rather than against doing so.

The study also offers ten recommendations for charities working in the bequest area.

1. The value of values: donor values and attitudes could be better harnessed to guide charity actions and communication.

2. Remember the giving pyramid: provide more opportunities for bequestors to give at higher levels in other ways.

3. Make bequesting easy: showcase, help, and open low pressure avenues of finding out more.

4. Recognise champions: encourage existing bequestors to share their stories and values.

5. Donors in the communication driver’s seat: offer, honour and update communication preferences.

6. Avoid age stereotypes: images need to appeal to a younger (middle-aged) demographic too.

7. Empower the working class: promote this survey’s findings to prove to the less affluent the power of good they are exercising via bequests.

8. Size doesn’t matter: demonstrate that bequests are extraordinarily affordable for all.

9. It’s raining men: consider the male propensity to bequest.

10. Moments that count: focus on will-making and remaking.

The full report can be downloaded at:

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