Andrew Taylor-Dawson: With giving declining, we have to consider our relevance

In an age of declining trust, with more ways than ever to give directly to causes, charities must adapt to the environment

Andrew Taylor-Dawson
Andrew Taylor-Dawson

For the third year in a row the Charities Aid Foundation’s UK Giving report has shown a decline in the proportion of people making regular donations, from 61 per cent in 2016 to 57 per cent in 2018.

This comes at a time when confidence in charities has also seen a significant fall, to 48 per cent. These figures will undoubtedly lead to pause for thought in the sector, but I believe we should be asking more fundamental questions about how people use their money for good, and whether traditional charity will even be the first port of call in the future.

There are now more ways than ever for people to support things they believe in or enjoy. From crowdfunded community projects to funding your favourite independently created online content, there is a never-ending stream of worthwhile ways to give your money away that bypass traditional charitable giving altogether.

Platforms ranging from the legal case crowdfunding website Crowd Justice to the content creators’ platform Patreon have revolutionised the way people interact with causes and content creators.

It would be extremely difficult to prove a causal relationship between the fall in individual giving and the changing ways people support the projects and content they like, but I would find it incredible if there was no link at all.

Add declining trust in charities to the mix and you have a recipe for giving to reduce. As CAF’s head of research Susan Pinkney says: "If people lack trust, that means they worry that their hard-earned money is not being well spent when donated to charities."

If charities are increasingly viewed as an unreliable middleman, then people will seek options they feel are more direct or give them a sense of greater control.

For me, the transformation in they ways people assist projects that they like or enjoy has been incredible to watch. The idea that you can support your favourite artist, musician or YouTuber and help them independently to create the thing you like is incredible. The immediate satisfaction of supporting a wholly community organised activity or personal project is also a great thing. But in the midst of this charities must be able to define what their place is and react to the environment.

Thousands of charities are using technology incredibly well to communicate their missions and create campaigns and content that people relate to. However, we must ask the question: is regular donation to charity becoming a less important vehicle for people’s beliefs and passions?

As charities we need to consider in tandem how we address declining trust while presenting ourselves in ways that fit with the existing environment and the expectations of the public. For years now we have been working in an extremely complex environment, and the CAF report bears out just how challenging it continues to be.

Over time, the changes we have all made to become more transparent and rebuild some of the trust that has been lost will start to pay dividends, but it is of course much easier for damage to be done than to repair it.

CAF’s statistics make worrying reading, but as a sector we are able to adapt and develop with the times. It’s down to fundraisers to make the case for organisations being an essential mechanism for people to express their beliefs and hopes for a better world. We can reverse the current decline in both giving and trust only if we work to maintain our own relevance in an increasingly complex but interesting environment.

Andrew Taylor-Dawson is development manager at the human rights organisation Liberty

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