Interview with Rob Cope, Director of Remember a Charity

Remember a Charity in your Will Week runs from September 7th to 13th 2015, so it’s time for solicitors and will writers to get involved. Rob Cope, Director of Remember a Charity, tells Jane Common of Today’s Wills and Probate why it’s such an important date for the diary…

What events have you got planned for Remember a Charity week in 2015?

“Well, it’s all about creating a moment to make as much noise as possible so we’re encouraging our members — we have 160 now — to be loud about legacies this September.

“We’re running an ad campaign on tubes and bus shelters; we have fantastic videos which people can share through their websites and social media; and we’ll be doing lots of press, including supplements about the week in the Daily Telegraph and Scotland on Sunday. And then there are quirky things, like bookmarks which we’ve created for members to use in their charity shops.

“It’s all about creating a conversation so our member charities will also be holding events through the week — talking to supporters; hosting community fundraisers and showing people who have left gifts in their wills the sorts of vital services that legacy money pays for.”

How can solicitors and will writers get involved?

“We’ve got free marketing packs for will writing professionals with posters and pens so if solicitors and will writers want to get involved they should give us a ring and we’ll be delighted to sign them up.

“Of course it’s good marketing for their businesses as well — it creates a moment for them too. Over the last two or three years in particular, we’ve seen more solicitors and will writers using the week as a hook to talk to clients about legacy giving and promoting it through social media and on their websites and blogs.”

Apart from Remember a Charity Week, what does the organisation do throughout the year?

“Remember a Charity Week and the ad campaign that accompanies it is obviously what we’re best known for but there’s lots of stuff that we do below the waterline — we lobby government to try to get them to change the way they talk about legacies; we talk to businesses who undertake will writing but don’t mention charities to their clients and, in particular, we work with solicitors to encourage them to mention legacies to their clients.”

Do you believe that will writers and solicitors could do more to promote legacy giving?

“Research shows that solicitors and will writers play a significant role in growing the legacy market. We monitor it every year and currently about 65% of solicitors mention charity giving to their clients. That figure isn’t bad — and has grown quite significantly thanks to our work over the past four years — but obviously we want it to be even better.”

Why do you think some solicitors are wary of mentioning legacies to clients?

“Some of them believe it’s not their place — others that it can create trouble in a client’s family. And of course someone’s estate should go to their families and friends first but even a small amount can make a big difference to their favourite charity.

“We did a study with the Cabinet Office a couple of years ago which showed that solicitors who talk in the right way about legacies can treble the number of their clients leaving a gift to charity in their wills — and that’s massive. So there’s a very clear connection between how solicitors talk to their clients about charity and whether the clients give. But it’s all about giving people the option. A lot of time there’s a misconception that legacy giving is only for the very rich but that’s wrong. Even a small legacy is hugely valuable.”

Do you go out and talk to solicitors?

“Yes, we do — at Law Society and STEP conferences, for example. And those conversations yield fruit — we now have almost 1000 solicitors and will writers who are proud supporters of Remember a Charity and are listed on our website. Some of the more engaged ones are very involved with our work and are doing behavioural trials with our insights team, for example. And we have lots of support for Remember a Charity week from the Law Society and the Law Society of Scotland, which helps us build up that dialogue with the legal sector.”

Do you think the recent allegations about financial mismanagement at Kids Company are a concern for the charitable sector as a whole and could impact donations?

“Like any organisation charities have to be accountable — people quite rightly want to know where their money is being spent. But I think what the Kids Company example also shows is how charitable organisations are plugging the gaps in society and what we have to remember is that we simply couldn’t survive without charities in this country — we all rely on their services and oftentimes they do a better job than any private sector or government organisation could. Hospices, museums, children’s playgroups, shelters for abandoned animals — we all use charities and the services they provide at some point in our lives.

“So, while it’s about making sure charities are governed in the right way, it’s vital, as well, that their services continue. And that’s where legacies are so important because they fund vital work — as a legacy is unrestricted income charities can invest it where it’s most needed rather than having to reserve it for a specific project, as they might with a government grant.”

Changes to the European Succession Law came into force on August 17th — what should solicitors and will writers be aware of?

“This is interesting as British nationals who live abroad or own property abroad can now make an election in their will to have the law of their birth country govern the succession of their EU property — it used to be that it was subject to the law of the country where the property was. Often that meant being governed by forced heirship but now British nationals have much more freedom and can leave foreign property to a charity or friend rather than a completely unknown relative. It should prove a welcome step in growing legacy giving among British citizens living abroad.”

Solicitors and will writers can get involved with the campaign by visiting www.rememberacharity.org.uk/join.

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