Start the new year with a look at what’s working
Originally published: January 2018
Few charity leaders would claim recent years have been easy. But it’s not all bad. Here are some reasons charities can start 2018 on a positive note.
People want to donate
Among all the gloom and doom of recent years, it’s worth remembering that overall public giving to charity hasn’t actually declined. A total of £9.7 billion was donated by Brits in 2016 — a similar level to 2015, according to the Charities Aid Foundation’s (CAF) UK Giving 2017 report.
In other fundraising news from 2017: Children in Need raised its highest ever amount (£59 million) in one night; the country’s wealthiest individuals donated a record £3.2 billion (up 20 percent from the previous year); and, while income from gifts in wills dropped slightly in 2017, rising death rates are expected to boost overall legacy income. Globally, Giving Tuesday achieved new records, with over $64 million in donations recorded by Paypal. Even some footballers got in on the act by pledging to give away 1 percent of their salaries.
Bad news brought some silver linings. Terror attacks in Manchester and London prompted solidarity and a flood of donations (for example using the hashtag #chrissysentme), as did the Grenfell Tower fire. And the election of Donald Trump apparently sparked a surge in donations — not only in the US but also in the UK.
Innovations in fundraising offer new opportunities
As fundraising becomes more competitive, charities are experimenting with new tools and channels.
Fundraisers are finding ways to encourage cashless giving, with contactless collection boxes becoming more widespread and near-field communication technology allowing donors to give via smart labels or posters. The potential is significant: some trials suggest donors using mobile phones or cards will give twice as much on average compared to when giving cash.
Meanwhile new fundraising tools from Facebook have helped rapidly raise hundreds of thousands of dollars during live events. The features have been rolled out to Europe and trialled among a handful of UK charities in 2017, and will soon become available to more organisations. Facebook have also announced they’d waive all fees to nonprofits, making this even more attractive.
Artificial intelligence (AI), though still in its infancy, is another exciting one to watch. Giving Thought (CAF's charity think tank) argues that AI could help create effective, low-cost guidance for philanthropists, increasing donations and helping them to give more effectively.
Charities themselves are innovating too: Oxfam broke new ground by launching the My Oxfam app in 2017, which aims to be more transparent about how donor money is being spent and to give supporters control over how they wish to be contacted. (The agency that created it also scooped an industry award.)
Trust in charities is (slowly) growing
After a tough few years, there are signs that public trust in the sector is slowly returning. According to a May 2017 report from nfpsynergy, charities had become the third-most trusted public institution (after the NHS and the armed forces), compared to 12th place just 18 months previously.
Small and local charities have proven particularly resilient on this count. Findings from the Charity Commission in 2016 showed an overall decline in trust in charities, but revealed that people are more likely to trust small organisations (with 57 percent of respondents saying they did so) than large ones (34 percent), and those operating in the UK more so than those working internationally.
Citizens are ready to mobilise
Google’s Year in Search video is a feel-good summary of citizen solidarity in 2017 — but don’t just take their word for it.
Record numbers of Brits signed petitions in 2016, and the mood of activism continued in 2017 with voter turnout in the general election reaching a 25-year high. Volunteering has remained steady overall, ethical consumerism is on the rise and one in five people are taking part in local social action, according to recent NCVO research on citizen participation.
Young people represent a particularly strong force — Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘youthquake’ as their word of the year — and more of them are volunteering now, for longer, than in previous decades (in 2015, over half of 16-24 year-olds volunteered). Meanwhile Generation Z, having reached adulthood, could bring valuable skills to the sector, for example volunteering to help charities improve their digital fundraising skills.
Charities and social enterprises are needed more than ever
Over 80 percent of Britons had used a charitable service in the past year, according to the Charity Today 2017 report. A similar proportion said they believe charities play a vital role in their local community.
While the reliance on charities to fill the gaps in statutory provision is problematic — meeting demand for services is now the second most common challenge cited by chief executives, after financial sustainability and income generation, according to research by CAF — it does underline the resilience of organisations.
Nonprofits have also shown an ability to adapt to needs as they arise, with numerous charities and other organisations stepping in recently to support refugees and asylum seekers in creative and practical ways.