The COVID-19 pandemic and the latest grim report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made us think about how we can recover into a better future.

The pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in our social fabric, like the fragility of work in the gig economy and in lower paid casual jobs, and the importance of a stable home when stay at home orders are in place and social distancing is required.

The IPCC report is a shout out that we must lower carbon emissions rapidly by 2030 or face a very unstable climate, increasing heatwaves, floods and bushfires, and rising sea levels.
Many leaders have been encouraging Australia to build back better post COVID-19 by addressing both social and environmental issues, creating jobs through the Clean Technology Powerhouse opportunities and through other Next Economy Jobs in the caring economy.
As well they have been urging affordable and social housing construction, energy retrofits and sustainable food enterprises among many wise suggestions.

Does this visionary thinking translate into how we support the future of our community? Does it translate into our approach to legacy giving?

It is wonderful to have visionary ideas, but the charities of the future will need the financial capital, as well as their own social capital, to make a more equitable and sustainable world possible.

What if every Australian with the capacity to leave a bequest left five per cent to charities working on these very issues?

It would be a game changer.

Charities, including foundations, with endowments are better placed to do two critical things:

  • Fund innovative solutions; and

  • Weather economic downturns.


Less than 8 per cent of people make a charitable bequest in their Will. The late Dr Christopher Baker, a leading researcher at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University studied almost 4000 Victorian probate files lodged in a single year.

Only one in 25 of final estates (which are estates with a Will and without a surviving partner) made a charitable bequest and one in three who were without partner ort children included a bequest.

One example from the study highlighted an estate worth around $11 million dollars that was divided amongst three children – all well-established and in their fifties.

What if the person leaving the bequest had given five per cent of their estate to charity? Each adult child would have received $3.48 million, instead of $3.66 million. And $550,000 would have been received by at least one charitable organisation. Five people of the same wealth would have left over $1 million - and the figures grows exponentially including smaller and larger estates.

What would it say about today’s community’s belief in the generations that will follow, if we all committed to leaving at least 5 per cent of our estate to charity knowing our children or close relatives were also provided for.

What if we talked openly about our legacy giving? It would shift our aspirations. Five for the future seems to resonate with where we find ourselves now.

Positive social and environmental change requires financial and social capital. Charitable bequests are vitally important.  This is precious money, to be used creatively and quickly, to respond to economic, health, environmental and social storms.

Leaving a bequest is building community capacity.

Five for the future.

Dr Catherine Brown OAM
Chief Executive Officer