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Catherine Mahoney: How the pandemic is changing the UK giving landscape

15 Dec 2021 Expert insight

Catherine Mahoney from Charities Aid Foundation summarises the findings from the 2021 UK Giving Report

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There’s no denying the pandemic sent shockwaves through the charity sector, not least from a fundraising perspective. Lockdowns meant the ways in which the public could donate to and engage with charities were upended almost overnight. How people gave to charity changed, the amounts given changed, and so did the number of people giving, with many donors ceasing their donations due to financial concerns. So were these changes temporary and how is the giving landscape changing as the economy reopens?

CAF’s UK Giving Report 2021 – the country’s largest study of giving behaviour – continues to explore the impact of the pandemic on donor behaviour with the goal of assisting charities, policymakers and wider society to better understand the UK’s giving landscape, in order to better adapt to it. So, what can we learn from this year’s report?

People in the UK donated £11.3bn to charity in 2020

We estimate that the total amount given in the UK in 2020 was £11.3bn compared to £10.6bn given in 2019. This is against a backdrop of significant concern about household finances, with 44% of people reporting they were worried about money.

The number of people donating remains below average

Whilst giving levels held up during the initial lockdown in spring 2020, the full-year results show a significant decline in the latter part of 2020, with a notably subdued festive giving period when donation levels are usually at their peak. Donation levels continue to be lower than average in 2021.

Fewer people are giving, but those who are, are giving more

On a month-by-month basis, we saw larger than usual donations at the start of the pandemic, and charitable gifts remained slightly higher than usual throughout most of the first eight months of 2021. A move towards digital giving may have contributed to this rise as donors aren’t constrained by the amount of cash in their pockets, and charities may find it easier to encourage desired donation values online.

Cash giving has reached its lowest level ever

Cash giving all but disappeared at some points during 2020 and in 2021 it remains below historic levels. Overall, far fewer donors are using cash whilst more are giving using contact-free and digital methods, such as via a website or app, or by debit card. As little as 7% of donors used cash in January 2021, compared to between 30-40% in a typical January. The use of these methods by those aged 55+ was accelerated in 2020.

Gift Aid use has increased since the pandemic began

More people reported using Gift Aid on their donations than ever before, enabling the income tax they would have paid on their donation to go towards the charity of their choosing. The number of donors using Gift Aid has steadily risen over time, from 51% in 2018 to 53% in 2019 and 55% in 2020.

Whilst we welcome a rise in the total amount given to charity and in Gift Aid usage over the past year, the worrying trend we initially identified in 2016 shows the number of people donating continues its decline. And while those who give are giving more, charities rely on mass giving. To meet their fundraising requirements and remain sustainable, charities will have to continue to make the case for support and adapt to these changing giving behaviours. 

Catherine Mahoney is Research Manager at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)


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