We need a modern-day tithe

By Harvey Bratt, November 21, 2011
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Britain is unquestionably a charitable nation. Three quarters of us give to charity every year, yet only seven per cent of us leave a legacy to charity in our wills. Compare that to the US and the figure is three times higher. For years now, countless numbers of the UK's best-loved celebrities have time and again put their names to advertising campaigns and letters calling for more of us to leave a legacy in our will. Despite their best efforts, only a small percentage of us pay them any heed.

And yet legacies are vital to UK charities and bring in £2 billion per year for the charitable sector - an astonishing figure that, in real terms, is equivalent to 20 Comic Reliefs.

So why is it that so few of us are willing to leave gifts behind once we are gone?

Perhaps there is a natural reluctance to consider our own mortality. Perhaps, in our busy lives, making a will, or changing an existing one, just doesn't take top priority. But perhaps it is because we simply haven't considered the possibility that giving can be about more than just the here and now, and in line with the US model can be more structured, using tax incentives to our own and our family's advantage. As Tony Blair said recently when speaking on behalf of his Faith Foundation, philanthropy is not just about giving, but about giving creatively.

Giving to charity can be about more than the here and now

For this reason, Legacy10 was launched earlier this month. An initiative founded by high-profile philanthropists including Virgin tycoon, Richard Branson; Innocent Drinks guru, Richard Reed; and Rothschild family patriarch, Jacob Rothschild; it has one simple premise - to lead by example. Each of them has committed to leave 10 per cent of their wealth to good causes and, in doing so, they are encouraging all of us to do the same.

The initiative has put legacy-giving in the philanthropic spotlight in a way that has not been seen before. As Legacy10 looks to create legacy ambassadors across the world of business and philanthropy throughout the UK, we in the Jewish community must ask ourselves how we, too, can increase our support for charities that are close to our hearts, especially in a world where people are living longer, and potentially using up their capital and so have less to leave to family and charity.

The initiative has been endorsed by the Government as a means of encouraging legacy-giving and follows on from the Chancellor's announcement in this year's Budget that anyone leaving 10 per cent or more of his or her taxable estate to charity will be able to take advantage of a cut in inheritance tax from the current level of 40 per cent down to 36 per cent, with the intention to make giving a tenth of one's estate to charity the new norm in our country.

The concept of giving 10 per cent is one that resonates well with the Jewish community. Its origins are deeply rooted in the Bible, where we learn that giving one-tenth of one's income to charity was established in the days of our forefathers.

Our community is incredibly generous in its support for Jewish causes both here and in Israel. It is part of the inbuilt mutual responsibility we feel as Jews to each other and to the wider community. But we can strengthen and deepen our connection to our favourite causes by leaving a charity legacy, thereby assisting them to plan ahead for future generations.

The large scope for legacy-giving is one that can positively change the face of the charitable sector. If we could persuade only an extra four per cent of people to leave a charitable legacy, an extra £1 billion a year would find its ways to good causes across the UK.

Our charities have a responsibility to ensure that their fundraising efforts are sustainable and must be sufficiently forward-looking to deliver a bold legacy campaign.

We as donors must ensure that legacy-giving becomes as natural as the generosity of our response to the appeal letters or calls we receive during our lifetime. If we fail to combine both of these, our future generations will be the ones to lose out.

Harvey Bratt is the Director of Legacies and Planned Giving at UJIA.

    Last updated: 10:53am, November 21 2011