Back in the tranquil days of early March just before COVID-19 struck, I was delighted to accept an invitation to speak at the LegacyFest in Dublin. Organised by My Legacy, this sell-out event provided a forum for Irish charities to discuss and learn about developing their legacy programmes.

Britain and Ireland are close neighbours in many respects, but while legacy giving is well-established here, it’s not yet the norm in Ireland. According to the 2018 ‘Legacies for Good‘ report, bequests make up only a fraction of all charitable giving in Ireland – just 6%, compared to 15% in the UK.

Back in October 2018, Elizabeth O’Kelly brought legacies to national attention when she left a pecuniary bequest of €30 million, to be split equally between five national charities. In another wonderful story, following the death of publican Ms Maureen O’Connell, her estate led to gifts to over 100 groups and charitable funds across County Galway totalling over €10.5million.

But why are such magical donor stories relatively rare in Ireland? There are several contributing factors. One is that Irish law has clear rules on inheritance, setting out a line of beneficiaries both up and down the generations. With such well-defined rules on family inheritance, will making is seen as less essential. Another reason is the lack of tax incentives, said to be at odds with practically all developed economies. In their 2019 fundraising performance report, Agency 2into3 stated that “Ireland’s current tax regime is not conducive to encouraging high levels of philanthropic and charitable giving.” At Legacy Foresight, we do not consider tax breaks to be a major driver of legacy giving. Still, they do send out positive signals and encourage conversations about gifts in wills.

Although the Irish legacy market is still in its infancy, we believe that there are clear opportunities to develop the channel, both for Irish charities and UK charities operating across borders.

The short-term outlook has changed significantly since early March, with all charities, large and small, national and international, facing acute uncertainty. However, with legacy giving, we always look to the long term. Over that timescale, there are good reasons to be optimistic.
Firstly, like the UK, Ireland has an ageing population and numbers of deaths are predicted to rise by 50% over the next 20 years. Many of these deaths will come from the Boomer generation who are more charitably minded and significantly more affluent than their predecessors. As in the UK, there is also a new generation of child-free supporters without the expectations of family inheritance. Almost one in five of the Irish women born in 1965 is childless, making them a key audience for legacy fundraisers.

Before COVID-19 the Irish economy was buoyant – earning it the nickname the ‘Celtic Tiger’. Commentators were flagging some significant risks including Brexit and the rise of Sinn Fein signalling the desire for a united Ireland. And make no mistake, Ireland is an extremely wealthy country – ranking fourth in the OECD for GDP per capita – albeit wealth is concentrated into a few pockets.

Analysis published by Credit Suisse estimated that the wealthiest 1% of adults own 33% of all private wealth, with the top 5% owning 50%. The high number of individuals with substantial personal wealth suggests the opportunity for some exceptionally large future philanthropic bequests.

In the long term, there is such huge potential for Irish charities to benefit from gifts in wills – so what can the sector do to maximise the opportunities?
Now is the time to lay the groundwork, to take stock of the opportunities available, and to ensure that thoughtful legacy campaigns and communications are in place.

Ann Howgego, Grants and Corporate Relationship Manager at ARC Cancer Support Centres, believes getting support and buy-in from senior management is vital. She says, “Directors and trustees have limited understanding of how fundraising works, particularly legacy giving. A long-term view/strategic view is not taken and short-term gains are considered more important for cash flow and survival rather than sustainability.”

As charities move forward with their legacy campaigns, donor involvement must be placed in a central role. Ann Howgego continues “Personal stories and storytelling is the future; these engage people in the big picture of why a bequest is important and what it can mean to the individual and the charity”.
My Legacy has a critical role to play in convening charities and providing forums for communication and collaboration. They can help with lobbying, raising public awareness and educating boards, all of which will be crucial to growing the market in the long term.

Ellie O’Donnell, Development Consultant from My Legacy says, “Our relationships with charity sector leaders, the Charities Regulator, Government and the Law profession are closer than ever before, and we look forward to continuing to work together for the benefit of all Irish charities. The more members My Legacy has, the louder we can communicate and support each other”.

During my trip to Dublin, everyone spoke with positivity and excitement about the long-term potential for legacy giving. It may be a slow process (even more so post-Coronavirus), and changes will be needed both in infrastructure and attitudes. But Ellie shared with me a lovely Irish phrase, ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’, which means ‘there is no strength without unity’. The more charities, advocating member organisations such as My Legacy and others can collaborate, wherever they might be, the more effective we will all be.

My Legacy supports its members to implement their legacy fundraising and programmes through training events, peer-to-peer learning, one-to-one advice and support. They produce their research in partnership with Persuasion Republic and also run an annual awareness campaign – My Legacy Month.

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