Leaving a gift in your will to a good cause is a wonderful thing to do, says Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, a coalition of charities set up in 2000 to encourage legacy giving. “It's an opportunity to support an organisation that you really care about,” he says. “By writing them into your will — and even a small amount  can make a big difference — you can leave them with an incredible parting gift. It's a great way to say 'thank you' for what they've done for you over your lifetime. And it's good to know that it will be the ultimate Christmas present for their beneficiaries — people who are often living in very difficult circumstances.”

The legacy market is now worth almost £2.5billion to charities across the UK, with figures showing that legacy donations were included in 37,261 wills that went to probate in England, Scotland and Wales in 2015 (up from 34,908 in 2014).

But there is a challenge.  While £2.5billion is certainly a significant amount of money, more is needed.

That's because legacy donations are the lifeblood of charities, particularly in these financially uncertain days, when many are cash-strapped, operating in an increasingly crowded marketplace, and struggling for survival. The services they provide, however, are essential to individuals and communities up and down the land. That life-saving research carried out by some cancer charities? That's down to legacy income. The work of many arts organisations? That's funded in the same way.

So more of us need to leave a charitable gift in our wills and to start thinking of legacy giving as 'the new normal'. It wouldn't take that much of a shift to make a startling difference, either: just a four per cent change in behaviour among the public would generate an additional £1billion for good causes in the UK every year.


Benefiting from services


“We would like numbers to increase more quickly,” says Cope. “And we know that they could, too, because there are lots of people who tell us they would be happy to leave a legacy in their wills — but are not currently doing so, for whatever reason.”

Despite being a wealthy and generous nation (just look at the latest 2016 Children in Need total, for example: £46million and counting), many of us take the charity sector for granted. It's tempting to presume that our favourite charities and good causes will always be there for us in the future, because they've always been there for us in the past; but, cautions Cope, that's no guarantee of their long-term survival.

“As a society, we have been very fortunate since the Second World War to benefit in many different ways from fantastic services in any number of different areas,” he notes. “Take arts and cultural experiences, or healthcare and medical research. We've lived through a golden age where we've been able to access these things easily... and so we're blasé about them.”


Continuing their work


We might be more charitably minded, Cope argues, if we really understood how much money it takes to keep these services going — or if we realised how perilously close some have come to not existing at all. “Charities are only able to keep open through the generosity of others,” he says. “So we need to think about the organisations that really matter to us and ensure that, by remembering them in our wills, they can continue with their work and so benefit the next generation.”

We can muse about how society would suffer if we lost the services that charities provide, says Cope; and that's a sobering enough thought. “But there's another more positive way to view it,” he insists. “What would society look like in 50 years if we could improve the services they offer with better financial support? For example, we recently looked at issues around homelessness. Now, if homeless services could be improved, might we be able to live in a world where no-one slept rough on the street? At Christmas time in particular, I think that's at the front of many people's minds.”


Change for the better


Where the legacy giving message is getting through to the public, it's making a change for the better — and a big one, too. Cope highlights that many of the UK's largest charities still benefit from legacy income; but he also says that there has been a significant increase in the number of charities who have benefited from gifts in wills for the first time (statistics from Remember A Charity show that 200-300 new charities receive legacy donations every month).“People are also giving gifts to more than one good cause,” he says. “They might leave something to one big organisation and also to a local charity, say, or to a hospice or museum.”

It's true that, in recent years, some charities have faced criticism in the press; but Cope says the majority do an incredible job and are constantly under pressure to account for every penny. They are also more transparent than ever, with information about their work available on  the Charity Commission's website and on their own individual websites or their annual reports.

And to those people who are still not convinced about leaving a legacy donation in their wills — either because they think it's too difficult to arrange (it isn't) or too morbid to think about (it needn't be) — Cope has this message. “It's difficult to think about our mortality because we view it as a closure,” he says. “But, really, leaving a gift in your will is the opposite of closure. It's the next chapter of your life. By writing a charity into your will, you can make sure you make a difference to a good cause after you have gone.”