Outside Edge: Opportunities still being lost

Nick Cater is not expecting next week's publication of Charity Trends to reveal any massive upsurge in giving.

So, how do you think you've been doing? We'll all know next week when CAF's annual Charity Trends report is published with all the facts, figures, lists, charts and graphs of the voluntary sector's recent financial history.

It is always a substantial and impressive piece of work, useful for prediction and planning as well as checking the rear-view mirror on the progress - or lack of it - of the charity sector.

The latest report covers the financial year 2003/04, so for context, let's recall where we've been for a couple of years, before the latest downturn.

Alongside the recovery from the dotcom crash, there has been a house price boom that fed a credit boom that fed a retail boom, high employment and general economic good cheer. So, as the rich got richer and the poor borrowed more, will Charity Trends find a stunning upsurge in giving?

Judging by past performance, I'm not holding my breath, because far too many contenders are underperforming in the charity cash stakes.

With the equity recovery starting so low, limited investment returns are understandable. The same factor may partially explain why the value of legacies has not been doing well.

But general charity income seems not to be riding the prosperity wave, and most charities appear slow to grab the billions of pounds going begging in Gordon Brown's reforming tax giveaways. It's as if the Giving Campaign never happened.

There's the free money not captured through Gift Aid, with many millions waiting for collection whenever anyone cares to sign up their donor database and grind through all their fundraising systems to build in recovery of that extra 28 per cent. The potential cash cow of payroll giving is unmilked, and any growth is probably levelling off now the extra 10 per cent bonus has run out. Who can tame this beast? My bet is those increasingly confident community foundations with their local focus.

Apart from political objections to the contract culture and dreams of charity finance initiatives, I wonder if all this talk of income from public sector services will really prove as profitable as some people hope.

So, is anything working in charity fundraising? The tsunami happened too late for Charity Trends, but it proved the case for online giving, which also reclaims Gift Aid, delivers bigger donations, seeks out the younger and richer, and captures data - all in one click of the mouse.

That's some package deal, so why are so many charities hanging back, or failing to invest enough in directing donors towards the single most efficient and effective fundraising means so far invented?

Nick Cater is a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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