Editorial: Time to face up to a fall in giving

The sector should act collectively to inform the public about the decrease in donations, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

The biggest shock of the past week was without doubt UK Giving 2012, which reported that fewer people gave to charity in the year to March, the amount they gave each month was down and the total given was 20 per cent less in real terms than in the previous year.

For many in the sector, the conclusions of the report just do not ring true, and some in the fundraising world have said so in fairly undiplomatic language. Which is fine - fundraisers are hard-wired for optimism, and there's nothing wrong with an unbuttoned debate.

It's true that the methodology of the research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation has its limitations. It's based on what people say they've done, which might be different from what they've actually done, and tends to produce large year-on-year swings. Figures based on charities' accounts, which take longer to produce, should be more exact.

But the sector would be unwise to dismiss the report, which undoubtedly reflects the experience of some charities - witness one forlorn comment, reproduced on the page opposite, on our story about the research. Giving tends to follow the economy, and 2011/12 was a poor year that ended with a return to recession. If giving is doing much worse than the economy, as this report suggests, then whistling in the dark is not going to help.

So it's a good move by the NCVO and CAF to launch Back Britain's Charities, calling for action by the government, businesses and the giving public. Many organisations are signing up, and it might - like the Give it Back George campaign - result in action from ministers, perhaps over Gift Aid.

But it would be good to see this campaign go public and appear on the billboards. Charities are naturally reluctant to spend money on saying "give to all of us" rather than just "give to us". But if the wider public aren't told in forthright terms about the general decline in giving, and the consequences that will bring for society, how can they do anything about it?

- Read our analysis on UK Giving 2012

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