“It was time to really give something back to a country and a city that has been so incredibly welcoming to me and so generous,” says Gabriel Farago of his bequest to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
Farago came to Australia from Austria as a 16-year-old, with a good education and fluent in many languages. Just not English, an irony not lost on Farago given he has made a career out of the skilful use of the English language as a practising barrister and author.
Many bequests are based on the personal experiences of the bequestor, but Farago’s is more intellectual in origin.
“I think we live in an extraordinary age and progress in medical research is so staggering that we are, as a human race, are crossing over into a totally new era that will revolutionise how we treat and see disease. I’m fascinated by it.”
Friends in the medical profession recommended that he check out the Garvan Institute. “I had a tour, I saw what they were doing, and quite simply I was blown away by it,” he says of the organisation that has the largest genome sequencing program outside of the USA
Farago quickly became a donor and then a ‘partner for the future’ with his wife Joan, which as he explains is a bequestor who leaves his or her estate, or a substantial part of that estate, to the Garvan Institute to use for medical research. As well as the couple’s bequest, Farago has been very active at the Institute, sitting on the Garvan Research Foundation’s board for the past 10 years. His passion for medical research has also informed his latest book, the medical thriller The Hidden Genes of Professor K, which is dedicated to the Garvan Institute and based on research with some of its top scientists.
Gabriel Farago is one of the mere 7.5 per cent of Australians who leave a bequest to charity. This is an even more startling statistic given that 89 per cent of us give to charities during our lifetimes. And it’s why more than 100 charities team up every September to help narrow that statistical gap and normalise the idea of leaving a gift or bequest to a charity.
Include a Charity was established in 2007 by a group of leading charities including Cancer Council Australia, Vision Australia, The National Heart Foundation and Mission Australia,” says campaign director Helen Merrick.
“The campaign was broadened in 2011 to include over 100 of Australia’s most loved charities. By holding a public awareness campaign every September, we aim to build awareness of the excellent work that gifts in wills can enable charities to achieve for the community. Today we are a collaboration of 100 charitable organisations covering a range of causes from medical research to animal welfare, humanitarian issues to the environment.”
The campaign now counts some of Australia’s most well-known charities as supporters, including the Australian Red Cross, the Taronga Foundation, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, The Smith Family, Heart Research Australia, Bush Heritage Australia, UNICEF, the Leukaemia Foundation and Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
The chasm between charitable giving during life and at death is not exclusive to Australia. American researcher Dr Russell James, who will be running a series of seminars on donor behaviour during Include a Charity Week, sees similar stats in the US. “Even among those people who are substantial donors to charity, about 90 per cent of them do not include gifts to charity in their estate plans. So, during life they’re very charitable but their estate plans don’t reflect that. For me that’s a very interesting dichotomy of behaviour.”
So why this giving gulf? Well, there is one powerful reason: we fear death. According to Dr James, this unwillingness to confront our mortality means that many people want to get the process of writing a will over and done with as quickly as possible and the idea of leaving a gift to charity is never even considered.
Perhaps this is a classic case of “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
“There was a really interesting study done a couple of years ago in the UK where they found that simply asking a person the question during the estate planning process, ‘Would you like to leave a gift in your will?’, that by itself more than doubled the share of people who included a gift to charity,” says Dr James.
Interestingly, most charitable bequests come late in the game. Dr James points to research by Dr Christopher Baker based on Australian probate data which found that 76 per cent of bequest dollars willed to charities came from wills signed by people in their 80s and 90s. In the US, longitudinal studies have revealed that half of all charitable estate plans had no charitable component five years prior to death. “It was added in towards the end of life,” explains Dr James. “We see a lot of end-of-life instability in these kinds of decisions.”
There is one factor that rises above all others. “The reality is that the single most powerful indicator in both the Australian and the US data of a person leaving a gift to charity in their will is childlessness,” says Dr James.
This is certainly a factor for Annelie Holden.
“One benefit of a bequest is that the donor does not have to sacrifice anything. It is our heirs who will get just that little bit less when we die. If one, like me, does not have children, there is less obligation to make provision for the next generation.”
But Holden’s bequest also comes from a love for the cause, the organisation, and a seed sown by the volunteer work she did for that cause.
“Some 25 years ago my partner George and I volunteered together to work at the Australian Conservation Foundation where we were asked to help with their bequest programme. I think that was what really made us aware of the benefits of bequests,” she says.
Around the same time, the couple started donating to Bush Heritage Australia because they liked the work the organisation was doing to protect environmental heritage and restore bushland. When George died three years ago, Holden started volunteering for them two days a week in the office and loved it.
But their commitment went beyond donation and volunteering. It was set out in both their wills that they would bequeath their bush property to Bush Heritage.
“We have suggested to staff that they sell the property so they have funds for future projects. Charities can’t only rely on ad-hoc donations; for Bush Heritage, it’s important that they know they have some money coming in the future to help them to continue establishing reserves and to protect ecologically important land,” says Holden. “What we leave to Bush Heritage Australia will be of benefit to many, many people for many generations.”
For Marelle Thornton and her husband, their bequest is deeply personal and rooted in three core reasons.
“Our decision to make a bequest to Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) was an easy one to make. Firstly, CPA’s guidance, generous support and professional assistance to our daughter, Katie, over 40 years have been key to her achieving huge physical, emotional and social gains we never dreamed possible for her. We have seen first-hand just how CPA makes every dollar work for families and how it constantly searches out ways to ensure that people with cerebral palsy have the best management programs and opportunities for optimal growth and development.
The bequest is also the Thornton’s way of continuing to support CPA, its services and its research efforts beyond their lifetime.
“Our bequest will be an investment in families of the future who will need this remarkable organisation. As well, we are hopeful that the gift we leave will go some way in enabling CPA to expand knowledge about the causes of cerebral palsy, to find ways to prevent cerebral palsy, to minimise its impact and perhaps one day be part of finding a cure.
And finally, in making the bequest they were keen to acknowledge the important contribution a charitable organisation like CPA makes in strengthening individuals and families and, in turn, the community as a whole.
“Include a Charity is an important way to highlight the valuable work undertaken in the community by charitable organisations and to make known how a legacy by way of a bequest can positively impact the lives of others into the future,” says Thornton.
The organisers hope to see an increase in charitable bequests from 7.5 to 12 per cent by 2020, which translates to an extra $440 million available to charities.
“Talking about one’s will is not as taboo anymore,” says Merrick. “And we know Australians are interested in leaving a gift in their will to charity because 29 per cent have indicated their willingness to do so. But the number who actually do is still very small.
“So we will need to continue the campaign for many years yet to educate the majority of Australians that this is an option they could consider, after they’ve provided for loved ones, that has a huge benefit to the community and allows them to provide a legacy for generations to come.”
Include a Charity runs from 11-17 September. Visit www.includeacharity.com.au for more information.
You can find out more about Gabriel Farago and his books at www.gabrielfarago.com.au.