A survey of individual giving habits shows that throwing change into tins is a popular form of donation. How can charities turn that to their advantage, asks Annie Kelly.
People in the UK still prefer to reach for the pennies rather than the chequebook when giving to charity, according to the recent NOP Survey of Individual Giving 2002, commissioned by NCVO and CAF.
More than 20 per cent of supporters prefer to give through street collections than donate through planned methods such as direct debit.
The loose-change culture might appear discouraging in light of the effort the sector has put into promoting planned giving, particularly as street collections only pulled in 3 per cent of the total of £7.3bn in charitable donations accrued in 2002.
But Simon Collings, chief executive at fundraisers' charity The Resource Alliance, believes charities must learn to live with the popularity of more traditional methods of giving. "The view that the rattling-tin cultue is peculiar to the UK simply isn't true, as giving patterns in this country follow trends that are evident all around the world," he says.
"While it is right that there should be a wider drive to increase the number of people who give regularly, we can't ignore the desire of people to give a little to a lot of different causes."
Street collections might not be a tax- or time-efficient way to raise funds, but they can push a charity out to a wider audience. They also generate money from people who would never normally give.
"Charities have to remember that giving is never going to be people's top priority and that donors are going to continue giving in more traditional unplanned ways," says Peter Gilheany, communications manager at the Giving Campaign. "But putting change in a bucket and giving by direct debit are not automatically in opposition, and charities have to try to run the two things alongside each other."
Gilheany says that the next step is establishing ways to take advantage of the sheer number of people giving through street and door-to-door collections.
"What the sector needs to do is make the most of this initial contact between a member of the public and the charity. It's not just about asking for money, it's about building loyalties," he says. "We need to engage people through whatever form of giving they choose to use."
Cathy Pharoah, director of research at CAF, thinks the research reinforces the power of face-to-face fundraising, which has the potential to catch the interest of the same people who put in a pound in a collecting tin.
"It's important that the sector's drive to develop planned giving doesn't exclude those who are drawn to the more personal element of street or door-to-door collections," she says. "This is why face-to-face fundraising works so successfully, because it combines spontaneity with tax-efficient giving."
The growth of face-to-face fundraising has also helped the sector weather the economic downturn of recent years. The survey shows that planned giving is on the increase and it now accounts for more than 15 per cent of the value of individual donations and boosted total public donations to £7.3bn from £6.9bn in 2001.
"Face-to-face fundraising has certainly opened the sector up to new markets and helped boost direct-debit figures," says Catherine Walker, head of research at CAF. "It's also unclear how many people confused face-to-face fundraising with street collections when asked about their giving patterns for the survey, which may be part of the reason that street collections are still top of the pile."
Walker says that a wider picture emerged when comparing the results of the Individual Giving survey with the CAF Charity Trends research in June, which looked at the voluntary income of the top 500 charities.
"The Charity Trends research showed a slowdown in the growth of voluntary income and increasing reliance on government money," she says. "Although the Individual Giving Survey doesn't calculate growth in this way, it does show a gradual decline in the giving population, and that over 60 per cent of the total amount donated comes from a small percentage of donors."
Walker predicts that this could lead to a shift in the landscape of UK giving, with fewer people giving but in a more planned way. "The Individual Giving Survey showed a significant boost in the public awareness of tax-efficient mechanisms with over 50 per cent of people now aware of GiftAid. If charities look after their donors it could lead to a culture of more efficient and targeted giving."
With the increasing reliance of many charities on government funds, planned giving will become more important. The Terrence Higgins Trust has managed to recover from a decline in its statutory funding through a focus on developing relationships with a small number of regular givers.
"It's crucial that we increase and sustain our voluntary income, especially now that the Government has reassessed the importance of funding for HIV/Aids," says Debbie Holmes, head of fundraising at the Terrence Higgins Trust.
"The most important thing is getting that one donor to sign up to direct debit, as it's easier to get someone to upgrade their donation once they become attached to the work we do."
While the research paints a cautiously optimistic picture of the state of giving in the UK, it also highlights the need for charities to take advantage of the relatively high levels of interest in new methods of tax-efficient donations such as GiftAid and payroll giving.
"It's important that charities look at giving patterns and recognise that now is the time to give priority to getting a planned giving strategy in place," says Gilheany. "We need to take advantage of this benign culture of giving as we don't know how long it will last."