Since we launched Legacy Monitor Netherlands two years ago, we have been approached by legacy fundraisers in Sweden, Australia and now Ireland about setting up local benchmarking programmes. These conversations have prompted us to think about what drives legacy incomes in different countries. Are all markets the same, albeit at differing stages of development? Or are there fundamental structural and cultural differences which will always apply?

Our fledgling international work has taught us two important lessons. First, when it comes to legacy markets there are more similarities than differences. And second, the market intelligence, professional support and collaborative networks in Britain are second to none.

It’s the economy stupid. The level of legacy income received is closely linked to the value of the assets in legators’ estates – which in turn are driven by the economy. This may seem self-evident to us today, but it’s still an eye-opener in many countries. Across the developed world, economies are increasingly being driven by the same underlying trends. For example, when the global recession struck in 2008, stock markets plummeted, house prices fell and economic growth slowed. Of course, the depth and length of the recession varied from one country to another. But overall, the trends were the same.

Cash gifts common, large residuals prized. Over the past two years we have tried to twist our tongues around erfstelling (residual) and legaat (pecuniary) bequests. But while the names may vary, the patterns do not: cash gifts are most numerous, but a few large residual bequests dominate income. In the Netherlands ‘erfstelling’ legacies over €100,000 account for 7% of all gifts, but 50% of total income; in the UK these figures (i.e. residuals over £100,000) are 6% and 55%.

Childless legators are key. When it comes to large bequests in particular, people without ‘natural heirs’ are far more likely to leave to charity. According to our recent UK/Dutch consumer survey 24% of childless British people over 50 have written a charitable will, compared to 8% of those with children. In the Netherlands the differences are even more extreme – 16% of childless over 50’s claimed to have written a charitable will compared to just 4% of those with children.

The boomers are on their way. Not all European countries had the same wartime experience. For example, Holland was occupied by the Nazis; Sweden remained neutral throughout the war, then saw waves of immigration in the cold war years. But although the baby boomer phenomenon may be more marked in some countries than others, most saw their birth rate rise significantly from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. And those ‘baby boomers’ will in turn boost national death rates over the next twenty years.

Living in a ‘risk society’. Britain is at the ‘forefront’ when it comes to the privatisation of pensions and long-term healthcare, with most Brits now reluctantly accepting that they will need to fund their own old age. Other developed economies are at different points along the privatisation journey, but they are all heading in the same general direction. Most are also seeing a yawning intergenerational wealth gap, with the boomers considerably more affluent than the generations before or after them. That’s why the need to perpetually support one’s children and grandchildren is top of mind for many ageing European parents, not just angst-ridden Brits.

Testamentary freedom vs family provision. Perhaps the most striking difference between us and Holland or Sweden is that under English law a person can leave their estate to whoever they like. This has a significant impact on the perceived need to make a will. Recent survey data show that 79% of British respondents over the age of 70 have written a will, compared to 45% in Holland; and 34% in Sweden. Persuading someone to write a will is an important first step in encouraging them add a charitable gift. The same surveys suggest that 17% of British 70+s have written a charitable will, compared to just 5% of Dutch respondents and 2% of Swedes.

Leading brands and sectors. It’s surprising how the mix of charities supported varies from one country to another. In Britain, Victorian charities have long dominated legacy giving. But in Holland, younger charities command a much higher market share, with post-1950 charities accounting for two thirds of the top 100’s legacy income. In both Holland and Sweden international brands such as MSF, WWF and UNICEF feature strongly, but in the UK their share is still low.

Levels of infrastructure. The UK stands out in terms of infrastructure – whether it’s market intelligence from us, Smee & Ford or Richard Radcliffe; support systems like FirstClass and Legacy Link; the Remember A Charity campaign or collaborative networks such as the ILM and IoF Special Interest Groups. These bodies provide a rich knowledge-base and robust forums for debate, which help to drive momentum across the British legacy sector.