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Our Tomorrow’s World Masterclass in was an intensive three days of discussion and discovery exploring the future of legacy giving.

Tomorrows World

Senior legacy fundraisers from countries around the world, including the US, Australia, Germany, Holland, Denmark and the UK, came together to discuss how the future of legacy fundraising might look and how charities can prepare for our changing society.

This article summarises some of the main topics that came up in the discussions and what charities should be most excited and concerned about for the future.

Technology — real or hype?

Unsurprisingly, new and emerging technology was a hot topic. No one contested that technology will continue to make huge changes to our lives and work, but there were animated conversations around the nature of its impact. Will fundraisers’ jobs be replaced by AI or is AI a tool for increasing productivity which will allow fundraisers to focus on adding the most value — human warmth. Or is it all just a lot of hype?

We looked back at what futurists in the 60s predicted for the early twenty-first century, and found that many of their predictions were over emphasised — such as moving pavements and underwater homes! Looking back can be helpful in looking forward, as we see that there is a risk associated with overestimating the impact of technology, while failing to acknowledge how other changes could come into play.

Reflecting on what stays the same

Jeff Bezos famously said that although lots of people ask what will change in the next 10 years, few ask what will stay the same, even though the second question is the more important of the two. “When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

And that is certainly relevant to legacies. We know that the human need to tell and hear stories has existed since the beginning of time and remains strong. While we can’t fully legislate for what we don’t know, just planning for what we know won’t change can help us get future ready.

But how will the future look?

While we can never be sure what the future has in store, it can be useful to imagine. Attendees worked on different possible scenarios for how the world might look in 10 years’ time. The most plausible scenarios were analysed, with attendees thinking through what their organisations’ strengths and weaknesses would be in those scenarios and what opportunities and threats they might pose them.

What should charities be looking out for in the near future?

Uncertainty was a key theme in discussions, due to its effects on consumer confidence. Feeling unsure about the future leads to people delaying big decisions, such as Will making. This was a major finding in our recent Boomers and Beyond study. To give donors peace of mind and to help them feel more in control, charities will need to consider how they frame the narrative of Will making and legacy giving.

Another major point to consider is that that fewer people are giving to and engaging with charities on a regular basis. Individual giving fundraisers are seeing evidence of this already, and it will eventually filter down to legacy colleagues. People don’t necessarily need charities to be their vehicle for philanthropy any more. There are alternatives, such as crowdfunding and buying from social purpose businesses, that allow them to give in other ways. It’s not that people are becoming less charitable, just that there are more ways to give.

For this reason, charities may need to seriously consider allowing and even inviting donors to specify how their gifts are spent. The Boomer generation, who will make up the majority of deaths over the next 30 years, are more likely to want to specify how their gifts are spent than previous generations. If charities don’t offer them what they’re looking for, they may find other ways to give.

What’s good and bad for the future of legacy giving?

Over the next three decades, we’re set to see a huge transfer of wealth from legacies left by the relatively well-off and generous Boomer generation. We’ll see continued growth in legacies for the causes they care about, such as higher education, local and community-based charities, the arts, and international development — the things that have been a big part of their life story.

Words of warning from the discussion about the future centred around the subject of instant gratification, how addictive it is and how much of our lives are now driven by it. Attention spans are getting shorter, but for legacy giving to thrive, it requires leaders who think long-term.

Success means learning delayed gratification — not being distracted by the buzz of the income we receive today, which can be counterintuitive to longer term growth. Rewarding only short-term achievements is not conducive to legacy success. In fact, it can be a barrier. Addressing this starts at the top. Long term purpose and vision is needed with a strong sense of where the organisation is headed. Strategies need to work back from there.

Whatever happens in the future, there is one aspect of legacies that will always remain true — the desire to be remembered, to live on, to be part of community, and to give. That will always be there — a reassuring constant in a rapidly changing world.