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Applying behavioural insights to legacy giving

18th Oct 2016

Legacy giving is an important part of the landscape of charitable giving in the UK, accounting for almost a quarter of all donations, with many charities dependent on these donations to survive. However, while a third (35 per cent) of people say that they would be happy to leave a gift in their will, only 6.3 per cent of people actually do. Today we publish a new research report showing how the will-making process can raise awareness of legacy giving and affect whether or not a charitable bequest is made.

For the last two years, BIT has been working with Remember A Charity and Professor Sarah Smith from the University of Bristol to learn more about people’s motivation to leave legacy gifts. As part of this programme of research, we have conducted eight randomised controlled trials with solicitors firms. Each of these trials is individually smaller than our previous study with Co-Operative Legal Services, but we can learn much from them in combination.

Some of the main findings of these studies are:

  • Social norms messages are effective at increasing donations – people writing their wills for the first time, who heard that others had given, went on to donate roughly 40 per cent more than in the control condition (see graph below).
  • Messages that aimed to frame legacy donations in the context of the good that could come from this act after the person had gone (posthumous benefit) consistently perform less well than other messages.
  • Discussing charitable bequests in the context of will-making and in face-to-face meetings is seen as highly appropriate. In an online survey conducted as part of the research, 46 per cent of respondents said that solicitors have a duty to ask clients about legacy giving, while most respondents were supportive of solicitors asking about charitable giving in wills, and viewed the social norms messages favourably.


Overall, the findings of our research show that although there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area, we are slowly uncovering more insights into people’s motivations. As we have seen previously, people are (perhaps surprisingly) responsive to information about what other people are doing. Just as importantly, however, we also find that there is support from the public for solicitors to ask about legacy donations after their families have been looked after.