“Statistics are used like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support not illumination”
I am not sure who said this but it is perfect for the world of legacies. I do it all the time.
Back in 1987 I was a Director of CAF and took on a fascinating role: leading the new edition of Charity Trends. Legacies had never really been fully researched (please note the word FULLY!).
I noticed that in 1983 (from a DSC legacies book) that charity legacy income was estimated at about £260 million. This was thanks to Bernard Sharpe at S & F. So, I met him and discovered this was from a small handful of S & F clients. We worked together to try and get a truly national statistic which in 1987 was £750 million. But this was still only from S & F clients – about 400 if my memory serves me right.
This means 1983 to 1987 it looks as if legacy income tripled. Unlikely!
Thankfully, S & F now has the most awesome and complete sector information which I love and use to the sector’s advantage.
On average I will live for another 22 years, and when I die, I want to interview my co-dead to ask them every possible question. And when this happens, I will try and feed it to you all. If you are still alive. Then perhaps we might reach the truth or real picture
We also have a problem concerning certain words: average, mean, median and typical. All of them can be misleading. Because everything is changing so fast, analysing the past to identify the future profile of a prospect can exclude your best new potential legators.
It is great to have information on:
The whole sector (now £3 billion of legacies and the best statistic we can ever give)
Gender split (dangerous)
Number of people who die without a Will (dangerous)
Average values of cash versus % legacies (dangerous)
Average wealth at death of a legator (dangerous)
Average gap from last Will to Death (dangerous)
Each average statistic is true but each one gives an untruth.
I often quote Donald Rumsfeld:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
A perfect summary for the world of legacies.
What we do not know, is as follows (and only some examples before I bore you to death before your average age of death):
Gender split of legators: This has changed from 83% female to 60% females in the last 30 years. I believe the potential in the future is NOT gender sensitive. But also, each causal area and region can have different statistics. People leaving legacies to a university have nothing in common with those who leave legacies to an animal charity.
Average wealth of legator: this is misleading. Some of the greatest prospects support charities through a £1 lottery ticket and some of the greatest legacy prospects are multi-millionaires – but still leave a miserly legacy. Do not exclude anyone apart from those who have NOTHING to leave behind.
Will making: “2 out of 3 people die without a Will” – often quoted by the Law Society. This figure includes all deaths (i.e. children and those without anything to leave). In my experience of meeting 29,000 supporters, well over 60% of 60-year olds have a Will and this is growing very fast due to lifestyle changes. The latest sets of focus groups indicate it is nearer 75% of those who support charities have a Will. But it varies for each causal area and in each region. For instance, hospices are local charities but the local Will status of prospects can vary hugely depending on local demographics.
Average value of legacies: this varies hugely for each cause and in each region and can be very misleading – but these figures are GREAT to convince Boards/Trustees to invest in legacy fundraising. “Imagine if we got 50 legacies a year at an average value of £20,000”.
Average gap between date of Wil and date of death = 6.8 years. Again, a ridiculous statistic. Most Wills are very old at death or very new (for obvious reasons). Each causal area and region can be different. I am more interested in finding out how to get the best prospects to make a new Will or change an existing one.
All of the above average statistics can be given to trustees in response to why the charity should invest in legacies but boards really like to know when they are going to get them (please do not all laugh at the same time). Often my favourite time is with trustees when I can turn and say, “Can you tell me when you are going to die and how much you will be worth at the when it happens?”
My second-best time is when trustees insist on “pledging statistics” as a guide to future performance. So, I ask them if they have left a legacy and if they have openly pledged….. guess what the answer usually is? Mind you only 2% – 68% of pledgers fulfil their pledge!
And then there is the wonderful response rate statistic to direct mail. On average (!) seemingly 0.50%. So, mail 200 donors and 1 person pledges. GREAT – 199 did not. BUT 100 might have gone and done it without telling you. And the one person who did tell you might have already agreed to do it due to an article in a newsletter but they just let you know after the mailing. Wrong measurement!
Before you ask me one final question, I would like to give you the most important answer. In an ideal world the best solution is to minimise legacy income expectations and only to agree an expenditure budget. If you have no (or little) legacy income this is sensible. If you have a decent level of legacy income then email me for a complicated but realistic way to budget legacy income!