Anxiety increases about the prospects for fundraising

Cancer Research UK, Britain's largest fundraising charity, experienced a fall in income of 6 per cent in the year to March. Sophie Hudson and Sylvia Rowley ask sector experts if this bodes ill for all fundraisers

Cancer Research UK's annual income, which is used to fund research, fell for the first time last year
Cancer Research UK's annual income, which is used to fund research, fell for the first time last year

Cancer Research UK's first fall in income since it was formed in 2002 raises questions over whether the economic downturn is starting to affect charity fundraising.

The charity's annual accounts, filed with the Charity Commission this month, show that its income fell from £515m to £483m in the past financial year. Fundraised income fell from £446m to £433m.

Cathy Pharoah, professor of charity funding at Cass Business School, says that given CRUK's status as the largest fundraising charity in the UK, the fact that its income has dropped is a "worrying sign" for the rest of the voluntary sector.

"They have a largely broad base of support, so this could be an indicator of giving generally," she says.

She points out, however, that a number of specialist cancer charities such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer and The Prostate Cancer Charity, have recently gained greater prominence and people may be giving to them instead.

Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations will soon publish their annual joint research on donations to charity.

Jane Arnott, senior advisory manager at CAF, declines to divulge figures from the report, but says the fact that one of the best-known charities has seen a drop in income shows how difficult the fundraising environment is.

"Times are tough for everyone, and tough times are here to stay for a while longer yet," she says. "Charities need to plan ahead to survive, but they may not survive unscathed."

Simon Morrison, marketing and communications director at the Institute of Fundraising, says that in gathering responses for its forthcoming Managing in a Downturn survey, which looks regularly at the effects of the recession on fundraisers and finance professionals, the institute is aware of an increasing sense of anxiety.

"Anecdotally, people are saying that things are getting tougher," says Morrison. He says a lot of members are re-examining their traditional forms of fundraising.

Nobody from CRUK was available to comment on its decline in income. One factor in the fall was that 64,000 fewer people took part in its Race for Life events compared with 2009. Offline sponsorship fell by 12 per cent to £58m.

Elizabeth Kessick, head of insight at the charity donation website JustGiving, says that sponsorship there is holding up well.

The amount of money raised has changed little over the past year or so, she says, which suggests "that Brits are remaining generous with their cash despite the financial climate."

Alternatives to Race for Life are growing in number. Siobhan Dillon, managing director at the charity event company Skyline, says it has seen increasing interest in its events and put on two extra London-to-Paris bike rides this year to meet demand, raising £1.5m compared with £1m last year.

Dillon says the recession means people are keener than ever to do charity events such as treks and bike rides to escape increasing work pressure.

In some events, fundraising has held up even if fewer people have taken part. This year's London Marathon raised a record £51.8m, up from £50.6m in 2010, despite the fact that only 35,303 people started the race compared with 36,956 in 2010.

£483m - Cancer Research UK annual income 2010/11
£515m - Cancer Research UK annual income 2009/10
£51.8m - Total raised by runners in the London Marathon 20ll
£50.6m - Total raised by runners in the London Marathon 2010

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