Why legacies and hospices go hand in hand

There is a strong link between legacies and hospices – not a surprise, perhaps, but the latest research indicates that this association is getting even stronger.  Does this mean there are greater opportunities for the UK hospice sector? writes Andrew Watt, Chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s Special Interest Group for the Health Sector and Senior Principal at the healthcare philanthropy consutancy, Accordant Europe.

Health charities receive the largest share of legacy income

Let’s start by looking at what the latest research tells us. Remember A Charity’s study – the UK Legacy Fundraising Market 2019 – shows that more than £4 in every £10 given as a charitable bequest is donated to charities in the health sector.

It is true that it’s major UK charities that benefit from the large majority of the sector’s legacy income. But the market is broadening, with over 10,000 charities[1] named in Wills each year. Within the health field, cancer and disability charities like Cancer Research UK and Macmillan traditionally dominate, but it is hospices that have the next largest share of the market. In fact, when we look at Scotland and Wales (at charities headquartered there), hospices have risen to become the main recipients of legacy income.

Across the UK, legacy giving now contributes 15% of hospices’ total annual income and the sector’s share of legacies is growing. Over the past decade, income donated to the hospice sector has increased by £25 million, making gifts in Wills all the more important. So why do legacies have such resonance for hospice supporters?

The ultimate act of gratitude

Legacy giving is a unique type of philanthropy; strategic and significant, irrespective of size. Giving a legacy is not a spontaneous decision. It requires planning and forethought – an investment in a cause that the supporter hopes to influence long after they are gone.

In the UK, we have one of the world’s most enabling environments for legacy giving, with the flexibility to write any charity into a will and generous tax benefits for doing so. Not everyone is in a position to make a major gift during their lifetime, but many can – and increasingly are – doing so in the form of a bequest.

Health charities touch all our lives at some stage, often when we feel most vulnerable and the relationship, trust and gratitude we feel towards those organisations is exceptional. Leaving a legacy is often seen as one of the most meaningful ways of thanking the organisations that have contributed to a patient’s healing, care, rescue or treatment. For those whose loved ones were cared for and supported by a hospice during their final days and years, few causes could have more resonance or bring a greater sense of shared community, than the organisation that met such need. A bequest is more than a means of showing gratitude – it’s also a strategic investment that ensures that support will be available to others who need it in the future.

Making the ask for a legacy

There may be a strong and growing link between the people who make bequests and the health sector, but that doesn’t mean that approaching conversations with supporters in a health environment is easy. While many hospices are embracing the positive opportunities that conversations about legacies can offer, for others it remains something of a taboo subject. Speaking about legacy giving (or any giving) can give rise to a mixture of reactions and there may be concerns that such discussions will conjure up negative or unhappy images. And yet, legacy discussions can be positive and empowering, with a focus on giving back and/or contributing to the future.

When patients or family members ask what they can do to help, they genuinely mean it. For current and former patients, even exploring the concept of legacy giving can be a cathartic experience, contributing to the sense that they are handling affairs as they would wish to and are moving positively towards the end of life, peacefully and with dignity. If the decision is made to write a legacy into their will, the sense of gratitude and of giving back constructively can contribute powerfully to a patient’s sense of wellbeing. It provides a sense of purpose, comfort and influence.

Growing legacy giving

Despite all this, conversations about legacies or giving in a hospice setting are still not commonplace. And, without providing appropriate information and an environment to explore discussions, many patients, families and others may not realise that legacies are an option for them or for the charity. In other words, potential supporters are unaware that the services that have touched their lives so intimately were funded through a bequest and that their own gift could have a similar impact.

So yes, there’s potential for considerable growth of legacy income for hospices. But growth can only be realised if there is a clear understanding of what a successful legacy programme involves and can achieve, a commitment to invest in and embrace legacies by everyone in the organisation – from the volunteer on the reception desk to the chair of the Board, and a willingness on all their parts to comunicate this legacy vision compellingly.

The option of making a legacy must be available to potential supporters, and everyone within the organisation ready to respond knowledgeably and sensitively to discussions, as well as comfortable in initiating them appropriately. It’s not only fundraisers who need to be equipped and informed, but care-givers, volunteers and medical staff; all those on the front line in caring for patients and their families.

In today’s challenging fundraising environment and with an aging population driving even greater need for hospice care, legacy giving has never had such a critical role to play or such potential to ensure the future sustainability of the UK’s hospice movement.