Stephen Cotterill: Fundraising is in danger of cannibalising its pool of donors

07 Apr 2022 Voices

Emergency appeals raise hundreds of millions, but the key to sustainability is not how much is given but by whom.

The state of the world over the last couple of years has encouraged people to give greater amounts to a variety of causes. From saving our NHS to saving our rainforests, the British public has given millions in response to ongoing crises. The latest mass appeal is to support those in desperate need as the horror of war takes its toll on Ukraine. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal raised £200m in just the first two weeks since launch.

Emergency appeals are vital and form the lynchpin of the UK’s rapid response to unfolding situations around the world. However, unless the number of people who are giving increases in tandem with the amounts donated to appeals, then fundraising is in danger of cannibalising its pool of donors – a finite resource that has hardly changed for 50 years and one that could diminish in the near future as the cost of living skyrockets and disposable income becomes even more scarce.

Weekly research by consultancy firm About Loyalty has seen a recent spike in the percentage of people giving to charity, rising from 18% of people surveyed in mid-March to 32% at press time, marking a jump in the number of people donating of around three million. Although likely to be due to extreme circumstances, and unlikely to be sustainable, this is a somewhat positive sign. However, research in the US suggests percentages overall are trending downward.

The challenge for fundraisers is how to reframe the concept of donating to move away from one-off events in response to a crisis to regular giving – from the band-aid scenario to one that seeks the cure. The key, of course, is engagement and keeping the cause in the collective consciousness once the media lens has moved on to other issues.

Expanding the pool of regular givers has been a perennial problem for the sector. It is debatable whether the pandemic has helped increase empathy en masse but it will certainly be worth keeping on an eye not on how much is given, but by how many. If that percentage can grow, the more likely fundraisers can convert donors to that long-term engagement with their causes.

@stevejcotterill  is the editor of Fundraising Magazine

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