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Include a Charity in Your Will for 'Lasting Impact'

20 August 2018 at 8:49 am
Maggie Coggan
Helen Merrick is the campaign director of Include A Charity (IAC), a social change campaign encouraging people to leave charitable gifts in their will. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Maggie Coggan | 20 August 2018 at 8:49 am


Include a Charity in Your Will for 'Lasting Impact'
20 August 2018 at 8:49 am

Helen Merrick is the campaign director of Include A Charity (IAC), a social change campaign encouraging people to leave charitable gifts in their will. She is this week’s Changemaker.

The campaign has grown a lot since its inception in 2007, going from a partnership with four of Australia’s largest charities to now including over 100 not for profits, covering everything from medical research to the arts.

IAC is an initiative of Fundraising Institute Australia, and aims to raise awareness of the social impact of including a charity in your will, which Merrick says can be a tricky task when writing a will is usually not in the front of people’s minds.

With the upcoming “Include a Charity Week”, an annual event running from the 10-14 September, IAC hope to promote the importance of this area of philanthropy within the sector.

In this week’s changemaker, Merrick discusses her love of fundraising, the importance of leaving a lasting legacy, and how she’s planning on changing a lack of awareness around the issue.

You’ve been with IAC for two years now, how did you get started?

I started off as marketing director of the International Development Agency, and became involved in the fundraising side and actually found it was something I really enjoyed. It was when I moved to Camp Quality as head of fundraising and marketing that I became aware of IAC. I’ve now been the campaign director for around two years now, and it’s all about creating awareness around gift and wills fundraising. I know it might sound a bit weird, but I love fundraising, I really do think it’s one of the most important parts of a charity organisation.

Why do you think gift and wills fundraising is something people need to be made aware of?

People don’t talk about it a lot, but the social impact is massive. A lot of the large foundations have substantial gift and wills programs The Heart Foundation, Guide Dogs, Peter Mac Centre they all raise a lot of revenue because they actively pursued gift and wills fundraising. As a sector it brings in nearly $800 million annually.

If you want to leave a legacy, and you really want to have a lasting impact, this is an amazing way to do it.

Campaigning around the topic of death and will writing must be a bit tricky, How do you go about it?

It definitely is. No one wants to talk about when they die, and writing a will is always at the back of your mind. You often think, “I should do it”, but it’s easy to put off.

Fundraising for it is interesting because it’s not like putting a bucket in front of someone and asking for a donation towards flood relief. It’s a very rational and logical way to give. When I’m campaigning about this I’m trying to change behaviours, and that’s not a fast process.

Do you think there’s been an increase of awareness since the organisation first started?

It’s really hard to measure, however we are seeing people saying they are interested. When we’ve done research, we found 28 per cent of Australians would consider giving a gift in their will, and 7.5 per cent of people are actually doing it.      

I think the Australian market is very open to it, and ten years ago, people didn’t want to talk about it, but now, you see it becoming a core part of charities’ strategies.   

We also liaise with solicitors and estate planners who can ask clients about including a charity, which research has found increases the chance of someone including a charity in their will by six times. So that’s an important part of the process.

What are some of the challenges you face when working with so many organisations?

A lot of the challenges are getting those doors open because we don’t have an urgency to speak… It’s not something like drought relief which needs immediate attention. So the question is how do we set an agenda. Governments are a challenge to work with because they change so often, so it’s [difficult] to become a priority, and show the value of what you’re doing.

We financially model the impact we can have, and look at what increasing that amount of money would do, and what kind of social impact that would have over the next 25 to 30 years.  

Most people who put a charity in their will die about 10 years after they’ve done it, so you may not see revenue back for seven to 10 years, which is hard to sell sometimes. But we have some incredibly progressive charities who really see the value of this program.

What does your day as a campaign manager look like?

It’s usually lots of meetings and conversations with different groups of people such as our different charity members, solicitors and estate planners. We also have “Include a Charity Week” coming up next month, and we bring in international speakers for that event. No day is ever the same.  

What do you like to do in your down time?

I have a two year old son, so I don’t really have any down time. The other day was my birthday and so I had an hour on my own to have brunch which was nice. I must admit though, I love what I do and I’m really lucky to do what i do. I get to spend all my time talking to different charities, and if I was working for one, I wouldn’t be able to. This role makes me feel like I can make a significant change. Not only will I have the legacy of a charitable gift in my will, but hopefully I’ve encouraged others to do the same!  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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