When asked, 35 percent of the UK’s population said they were happy to leave a gift to charities in their will. Unfortunately, only 7 percent of people actually do according to the organisation Remember a Charity.

So why the disconnect?

While there’s a misconception that only very wealthy people leave sums to charity, in fact many charities couldn’t survive without the small gifts that normal people leave to them in their wills. Remember a Charity estimates that only a 4 percent change in behaviour could result in an additional £1 billion a year for good causes in the UK.

Writing for the charity, consultant Richard Radcliffe says the profile of the person who leaves a legacy to a charity in their will has changed over the years. Again, there’s a misconception that single, old ladies are the ones donating sums, but the baby boomers are among those giving money. And they often ask searching questions of a charity’s performance wanting to know exactly how funds are spent to ensure their gift isn’t wasted.

Unlike other forms of donation, leaving a legacy will involve a legal document – a will, making it that little bit more complicated for people. Radcliffe says the call to action – please leave us a legacy – isn’t an effective one, because people perceive adding in that legacy as a complicated and tedious process. Charities need to make it easier for people to leave money to them.

Some charities already offer will-writing services for people in return for a legacy. Depending on the organisation, this is usually limited to people over a certain age.

Radcliffe also recommends charities change their campaigns according to geography. North of the border, he says, people prefer privacy so might not take too kindly to questions about what they plan to do with their estate once they die.

Why do people choose to leave legacies in the first place? According to research carried out on behalf of the British Research Foundation, the top three reasons mentioned by the 2,000 respondents were having a personal link to a cause (52 percent), wanting to give something back to society (28 percent), and that it was important to do so (16 percent).

Researchers at the University of Bristol have found that prompts to leave money to charity during the will-making process an “substantially increase the probability” of someone making a bequest, doubling the proportion. If the charity adds emotional and social cues, this trebles it. Responses are the strongest among people who don’t have children.

Throughout the year, there are a number of campaigns run where charities encourage people to leave money in their wills. This year, Remember a Charity will be pushing this concept during its legacy awareness week, which will run 12-18 September, and it will involve a consortium of 170 different charities. The late actor Alan Rickman reportedly left £100,000 to various charities, including those he was a patron of.

The issue also highlights how important it is to make a will and keep it up to date. Many people are willing to donate to a charity in their will, but they don’t get round to doing it before they die.

Finders International specialises in tracing beneficiaries when people die without leaving a will. Its expertise also includes finding missing wills, and overseas assets. To find out more about the services we offer, visit our website.