Melbourne, and Australia more broadly, has been the fortunate beneficiary of many bequests from individuals who wanted to contribute to a better world – even though they would not see the impact of their gift.
In the 20th century, the Collier sisters, Felton, William Angliss, Myer, in Melbourne; Mitchell in Sydney; Allport in Hobart; the Barr-Smith family in Adelaide; all left far-sighted bequests which continue to benefit their community.
However, place-based impact is not just the realm of the very wealthy. Many of us have the ability to give a portion of our wealth through our wills to have an impact both now and in the future on the places we love.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the latest grim reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the State of the Environment have made us think about how we can respond to create 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 social connectedness after COVID-19 restrictions.
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. These are great initiatives and we have jumped on board to support many projects ourselves.
Many exciting affordable and social housing projects, energy retrofits and sustainable food enterprises have been kick-started over the last year.
Does this visionary thinking translate into how we support the future of our community? Does it translate into our approach to legacy giving? Does it ensure that the people facing the most disadvantage are able to access jobs and be part of a just climate transition?
It is wonderful to have ideas, but the charities of the future will need the financial capital, as well as their own social capital, to build a more equitable and sustainable world.
What if every Australian with the capacity to leave a bequest left up to five per cent to charities working on these very issues? What if a charitable bequest became something everyone left as part of their legacy?
It would be a game changer.
Charitable foundations with endowments like Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation are well placed to do two critical things:
Fund innovative solutions;
Monitor and respond to changing community needs, including during times of pandemics and natural disasters; 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 final estates (which are estates with a Will and without a surviving partner) made a charitable bequest and one in three who were without a partner or children included a bequest.
One example from the study highlighted an estate worth around $11 million dollars that was divided among 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. Two for the future would still have an impact.
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
Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation is proud to participate in the Include a Charity
campaign, encouraging Australians to consider charitable giving as part of their estate planning.