Helen Wadham: Religion is a major factor in giving

Donating can be a way of people putting their faith into action, says the associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

Helen Wadham
Helen Wadham

Undaunted by long coach journeys, boggy conditions and dubious sanitary facilities, about 500,000 people travelled to venues in Scotland, London and Birmingham to see Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit.

In his opening address in Edinburgh, the Pope lamented the "aggressive forms of secularism" that he claimed are transforming British society.

If the Catholic Church and other religious institutions are indeed being buffeted by a new wave of secularism, we must consider from a fundraiser's perspective the impact this could have on charitable giving.

The relationship between giving and religiosity of all kinds is long established. The mediaeval church itself assumed responsibility for raising and distributing charity, but the dissolution of the monasteries rendered charitable giving a more individual endeavour.

Higher levels of religiosity appear to motivate donors of all persuasions and budgets. Beth Breeze, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy at the University of Kent, found that donors who describe religion as important in their lives give up to 3 per cent more than those who say it is not, and religious donors tend to favour particular causes.

According to the sector consultancy nfpSynergy, people who describe themselves as religious are more likely to donate to international aid or development charities and are less likely to give to animal welfare organisations than their non-religious counterparts.

"Crowds are at fever pitch," tweeted a young Catholic waiting at Hyde Park, one of many thousands of under-30s who turned out for the papal visit. Continued high levels of engagement among young Christians, Muslims, Jews and others suggest that reports of the demise of religiosity are premature.

The clear message for fundraisers is that we need to recognise and respond to the diversity among donors and emphasise how giving to charity is an effective way for people to put their faith into action. In so doing, we need to think very carefully about what matters most to them.

The general public might increasingly be looking for effectiveness, but religious donors are perhaps more drawn by our passion for what we do, our commitment to others and our trustworthiness as institutions.

Religion may or may not be important to us as individuals but, as fundraisers, we should welcome its continued relevance to others.

FACT FILE - For the greater good

-The General Social Survey of 2008 by the US National Opinion Research Center said 86 per cent of Americans described themselves as "very", "moderately" or "slightly" religious.

-The British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 said 25 per cent of British people described themselves as religious.

-The Charities Aid Foundation's International Comparisons of Charitable Giving 2006, said giving in the US was 1.67 per cent of GDP in the US and 0.73 per cent in the UK.

-In its profile of The 21st Century Donor, nfpSynergy found that 82 per cent of regular worshippers were likely to donate to charity, compared with 74 per cent of the total sample.

-Barclays Wealth's Barriers to Giving report identified religious belief as the single most important motivating factor in driving donations of more than £10,000 a year.

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