A panel of charities should be created to report on giving figures every quarter to provide more accurate insights into fundraising performance, according to the consultancy nfpSynergy.
In a blog called Is giving up or down, and what is the best way to tell?, published today, Joe Saxton, co-founder of nfpSynergy, and Cian Murphy, a researcher, argue that reports based on asking people about their giving habits are flawed.
They question the results of the recent UK Giving 2012 report by the Charities Aid Foundation and National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which found donations fell by £2.3bn in real terms – a drop of 20 per cent – between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
Saxton and Murphy point out that HMRC figures show Gift Aid claims rose by 3 per cent from £3.8bn in 2010/11 to £3.9bn in 2011/12, which does not suggest a fall in giving. The also say the Charity Commission has reported that the sector’s income has increased from £55.9bn in December 2011 to £58.6bn in September 2012.
NfpSynergy’s own figures, based on surveys it carries out six times a year with 1,000 people, found total donations were £7.61bn in 2011/12 compared with £7.64bn the previous year.
But they do not think either set of figures is right because people’s declarations about their giving habits are skewed by their poor memories and the so-called ‘social desirability bias’.
"The same kind of bias creeps in when asking people how much they drink or how much sex they have," the blog states.
"Our belief is that asking people about their giving patterns measures not what they actually give, but their perceptions about what they could or should be giving. So the volatility in both our data and the NCVO/CAF data is an indicator of people’s economic worries and woes, not of what they give."
Their solution is to bring together a panel of charities, of different sizes and types, with the financial systems to report on their giving figures every quarter. This would unite people to take actions on research data everyone has confidence in, they say.
Richard Harrison, director of research at CAF, said he thought bringing together a panel of charities to share their date was a great idea. But he said the UK Giving surveys will continue to have a part to play.
"It looks at fluctuations in demographic patterns across the entire giving space," he said. "We would certainly welcome and support the panel of charities but surveys are certainly extremely valuable and could never be replaced in terms of producing ongoing research and understanding."