I was delighted to attend earlier this week the launch of the UK Civil Society Almanac 2017, produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The almanac is an invaluable resource that reminds us of our sector’s contribution to both the economy and society, something which is even more in focus in the run-up to the general election.
The numbers are impressive. There are 165,801 organisations in the sector, all diverse in size, aims and activity. They contribute £12.2bn to the UK economy, similar to the GDP of Cyprus in 2015 and employ 853,000 people - double the number of employees of Tesco (my favourite stat – and as we say in fundraising, every little helps).
The almanac also shows that charities spend most of their money on achieving their charitable aims – 84 per cent of the £43.4bn total spend. This is important – with greater scrutiny and desire for transparency we should always be reminded that that charities exist to deliver services and carry out activities, and that our sector is doing more year on year.
But it was the figures on income that stood out the most for me. As Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, acknowledged in his introduction, income from individuals remains the biggest source of income for the sector, amounting to £20.6bn, and had the biggest rise of any income source. Voluntary donations from members of the public continues to provide the largest share of this - fundraised income has been incredibly resilient over the years and this almanac shows an increase of almost £400m for donations and legacy gifts.
It’s important to remember that this data is from 2014/15, so the picture we get here is one from before the 2015 general election, the fundraising regulatory changes and the EU Referendum.
That said, the CAF UK Giving 2017 report, a survey of UK giving behaviour, reflects continued high levels of donations. It reports that £9.7bn was donated in 2016, and that donating money remained the main way in which people engage with charity (with 61 per cent having done so in the last year). Fundraising remains the most-effective and sustainable way that charities can raise money, and provides the opportunity for generous members of the public to engage with the causes they care about.
As NCVO has predicted, new money from government is unlikely. Earned income is growing, and charities will need to look at how to diversify further. But with an average of £4 raised by every £1 invested in fundraising we also need to support the sector to be stronger and more sustainable by championing and investing in fundraising skills and training. That’s especially the case for smaller charities that report lacking the skills they need to effectively raise the funds they need, and that these organisations make up 82 per cent of the total number of organisations in the sector.
But the reasons for investing in fundraising go beyond this. We know from our latest research, released yesterday, that the benefits of fundraising go beyond the money that is raised. Fundraising brings people together to share and support a charity’s work, mission and values. It also results in positive outcomes for individuals who give. For example, after donating, almost two-thirds of people take an additional positive action such as talking to a friend or family member about an issue, giving their time to volunteer or taking part in a campaign.
We’ll be thinking about all of this and how politicians can help the sector do more after the general election. Look out for our election briefing next week.
Stephanie Siddall is policy manager at the Institute of Fundraising