Over the next 30 years, billions of pounds are potentially coming to British charities through gifts in wills. The reason? The post-war generations are coming of age. Today, people born before or during the Second World War account for most of the legacy donations received. But fast forward twenty, thirty years and that profile will be very different.

The post-war generations consist of three key groups. Core boomers, (10 million babies born between 1946 and 1957), were followed by 7 million shadow boomers (born 1958-1964) and then 12 million Generation X (born 1965-1979). Now spanning mid-life to retirement,  these three groups represent 40% of the UK population, and a prime legacy audience.

Given the long time lags between idea (‘I’d like to leave a legacy’) and action (‘I’ve included a charity in my will’); and between action and final administration and pay out, it’s essential to be considering and targeting these significant groups now!

Our recent webinar explored what understanding these vital generations can enable charities to do, and how the landscape may change as they ‘come of age’.

An aging population means a bigger legacy market

The size of the baby boomer generation, along with rising life expectancy is the main reason we’re seeing such a rapid aging of the British population. Looking ahead, UK annual deaths are predicted to rise by one third over the next three decades. By 2040 baby boomers will account for two thirds of all deaths, while by 2050, Generation X will represent a third of all deaths.

Thanks to their sheer numbers and the amount of assets they hold, these older groups also account for a significant share of wealth. Around half of all household wealth is owned by people aged 55-74. That’s a big pool of potential legacy income.

It’s important to recognise that these three groups are at very different life stages today. By now, core boomers’ children are largely grown up and living independently; most have also lost responsibility for elderly parents. They will have made their decisions about retirement and most have transitioned from work to leisure.

In contrast, shadow boomers are either nearing retirement or newly retired, with child-supporting responsibilities starting to diminish. Generation X, spanning a wider spectrum of ages, will be juggling the needs of children and elderly parents while dealing with the pressures of work. All of these groups are facing important adjustments that will also affect their future legacy giving decisions.

Different and differing generations

These generations have had very different life experiences, which impact their likelihood to leave a legacy and affect how they should be communicated with. The early boomers grew up in the 1950s, with post war austerity and rationing but came of age in the 60s, with access to free national health and education, good pensions and rising house prices. Younger boomers left school in the 1970s, with high unemployment, inflation, economic insecurity and the rollback of the welfare state. In comparison, Generation X are much more diverse, and liberal, but also more economically insecure.

Shadow boomers and the older Generation X group are also far more likely to be childless than core boomers, and we know that those without children have a greater propensity to leave a charitable gift, and a higher residual gift, in their will.

Broadly, they also had better access to university education – another significant indicator of leaving a gift in their will, particularly combined with associated factors such as higher wealth and access to greater opportunities, including travel and the wider world view all this can provide.

Immigration too has boosted a growing population and increased diversity. 17% of Generation X are non-white compared to just 7% of core boomers, and they are far less likely to define themselves as Christian. With this comes a range of different views and attitudes towards charity, death and family.

What we see is that these groups are not homogenous in makeup, attitudes or outlook.

Still a lucky generation?

For many years the boomers were seen as a lucky, almost golden generation. But of course over time, their lives, and their world, have changed. The confidence and comfort once felt has been impacted by the global recession from 2008 to 2012, followed by Brexit, Trump, the pandemic, now war and the cost of living crisis.  Thanks to the chronic and growing uncertainties, this optimistic generation has been left feeling uncharacteristically impotent, and ‘family first’ has become a dominant theme for many.

In our last research in 2019, the boomers we spoke to felt more anxious, confused and angry than ever. And for the first time, they were feeling concerned for their own future, let alone their children or their grandchildren.

Despite the uncertainty, older groups have a higher propensity to give and to volunteer their time. Back in 2019, 61% of core boomers were giving regularly, and 26% were volunteering on a quarterly basis. And all the evidence suggests that these connections are important. In our Invisible Legator study in 2018, 96% of legacies were founded on some sort of current or past connection, whether that be as a supporter, volunteer or service user.

Legacy Futures’ work shows that legacy fundamentals are resilient and enduring. Despite the uncertainty – or perhaps because of it – people are still keen to give something back, to work together to make their world a better place. But they may be more cautious and selective about where they give their money.

What does this mean for legacies?

Legacy giving is resilient. People will still make space in their wills for charities who have deeply touched their lives, or champion the things they care most about. But fundraisers will have to work harder to understand these generations, as well as to encourage legacy giving.

We know that boomers and Generation X are equally open to leaving a gift, although at different stages of the process. They might not have made a will yet, although it is likely on their radar. But they will be ever more demanding. Tomorrow’s legacy donors will expect more proof of how their gift will be used, and the value it will bring to the cause. Transparency, tangibility and a sense of control are crucial.

Effective fundraising needs to reflect the circumstances and motivations of the whole population, and so legacy fundraisers will need to embrace these new multicultural audiences by tailoring the approach, messages, language and meeting their motivations. It’s certainly not business as usual.

And the rise of digital means that there are more channels to reach them, but also more noise and competition, so charities are having to adapt channel and message for a varied and fragmented market.

Our next research project

So what next? We still believe that the outlook for legacy giving is positive and that growth will accelerate. But there is no denying circumstances have changed.

In our 2023 project we plan to update our understanding of boomers and see how their attitudes have changed since 2019. We’re going to look to the future and start exploring Generation X as they become increasingly important to the legacy sector.

We’ll investigate the impact of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and the cost of living crisis and how uncertainty has affected these groups’ thoughts on the future as well as the way that they live their lives now. We’ll research where they are directing their energies and focus when it comes to the next generation, and any children and family.

After a buoyant period of free education and affordable housing for the boomers, how will they protect their children, who have not been so lucky? Societal shifts, such as divorce and blended families, as well as demographic shifts in race, ethnicity and religion may have an impact. What are their thoughts and their expectations about their financial security in retirement, and what impact will retirement have on their lifestyles and plans for the future?

Adapting your approach

What is clear – in the world and in legacy giving – is that nothing can be taken for granted. Charities need to be adapting their strategy, listening to supporters, and engaging with them on their needs to ensure that they can make the most of what could be a very lucrative period for legacy giving.

Our new project, The future of legacy giving: boomers and beyond, kicks off in Spring 2023. We’d love you to join us on this important and fascinating exploration. For more information, download the proposals here, or contact Caroline Waters.