With the introduction of the Fundraising Preference Service last July and the fundraising crisis of three years ago an increasingly distant memory, 2018 looked set to be the year the sector continued its recovery in the public’s eyes.
But then scandal erupted again in February when The Times revealed that Oxfam workers had sexually exploited women in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
So what impact, if any, have the negative headlines had on the public’s attitudes to donating this year? And have members of the public been rushing to sign up to the FPS so they can block charities from contacting them?
For this year’s Donating Trends in the UK report, produced in partnership with Harris Interactive, researchers asked more than 2,000 adults about their views on charities and their donation preferences.
Here we outline some of the findings in this year’s report, but more detail can be found by purchasing the full report.
The Fundraising Preference Service
There was much trepidation in the sector about the effect the FPS, which allows people to block communications from charities, might have on income.
But Donating Trends shows that 75 per cent of respondents hadn’t heard of it, even though it was heavily promoted in the media last year by the Fundraising Regulator, which runs the service (see chart 1)
Of the 25 per cent of people who had heard of the FPS, 47 per cent said they had used it, which is higher than the 38 per cent who said they were likely to sign up once the service was launched (see chart 2).
The regulator’s own statistics show that 6,806 members of the public have used the service since its launch in July, requesting 16,557 suppressions.
Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and communications at the Institute of Fundraising, says he is not surprised the majority of the public were unaware of the FPS, but a high percentage of those who had heard of it had signed up to the service.
"Many of the people who need and want the service are those who are likely to be more aware of it existing already," he says.
Fluskey says the relatively low sign-up numbers were a positive sign for charity fundraisers, suggesting that most people were happy to receive communications from charities.
The FPS was established primarily with older people in mind after cases such as that involving Olive Cooke, but this year’s Donating Trends reveals that those aged 25 to 34 were mostly likely (41 per cent) to have used it for themselves. By contrast, just 16 per cent of those aged 45 to 54 and 25 per cent of those aged over 55 had used it.
Gerald Oppenheim, the regulator’s head of policy, says he is surprised by the number of young people who say they have signed up to the service, particularly given that the regulator has focused on marketing the FPS to an older audience.
Overall, he says, the regulator has been pleased with the number of people who say they have signed up to the service in the first year. "It is certainly really straightforward to make suppressions, and we wanted to make sure that was the case," he says.
Last year’s survey appeared to show the beginning of a recovery of public trust after the fundraising scandals of recent years, but this year trust levels have stalled, no doubt influenced by the survey taking place in February, shortly after the Oxfam scandal first broke in the media.
When asked to rate how trustworthy they believed charities to be on a scale of 1 to 10 (see chart 3), the average rating was 6.31, a slight drop from last year’s score of 6.64. Despite the dip, the public still considered charities more trustworthy than the government and the media, which both had an average score of 4.7.
The top three things that made people less likely to trust charities remained the same as last year: high senior executive pay (39 per cent), pressure to sign up or donate (34 per cent) and negative media coverage (31 per cent) (see chart 4).
More than a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) named negative media coverage as a concern, up from 19 per cent in 2017, suggesting recent negative headlines had affected their overall view of charities.
Aidan Warner, senior external relations officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says the figures show the sector has some work to do on trust.
"Building trust has to be a continuous campaign," he says. "The media are rightly prepared to expose poor practice and, with the effect that has on trust, we need to run to stand still.
"That means taking every opportunity to demonstrate integrity, thinking about reputation in everything you do and increasing the weight you give to reputation when making decisions.
"Look for the skeletons in your closet and give them a proper burial rather than hoping they won’t be discovered."
Why people don’t give
The survey found that the overwhelming majority of respondents (82 per cent) gave to charities – which, encouragingly, was the same percentage as last year despite recent negative coverage.
Of the 18 per cent who said they did not give, the most cited reason was that they could not afford to do so (54 per cent).
Encouragingly, this was a big drop from the 68 per cent who last year cited lack of money as a reason for not donating to charity (see chart 5). On a more worrying note, the proportion of people citing a general lack of trust and dislike of fundraising methods as reasons for not giving to charity rose significantly over the past year. Combined, they accounted for 48 per cent of non-givers, up from 34 per cent last year.
But Fluskey of the IoF says that charities should view this as an opportunity. "Issues such as concerns over money reaching the cause are something we can overcome through being transparent and building up trust," he says.
The full Donating Trends in the UK 2018 report is available to buy here. The five-part report covers what people think of charities, their attitude to charities when it comes to trust, the profile of those who give and why, as well as donor engagement online. For the first time, the report looks at and compares data from 2016 onwards to see how public perception and giving habits have changed over time.