The number of regular givers to a group of major charities fell by about 174,000 last year, new figures show.
The specialist agency Open’s 2019 Charity Benchmarks Report shows that the number of regular givers to a group of 21 charities including the Salvation Army, ActionAid and the conservation charity WWF-UK, fell by about 174,000 to slightly more than 1.6 million in the year to the end of March 2019.
This was partly down to the recruitment of active donors failing to keep pace with attrition, researchers concluded.
The survey, which in its second year, gathered responses on almost 1,500 staff across 16 participating charities and gathered data on £1.1bn of fundraised income over the past year, equal to 10 per cent of the overall charity sector.
Fundraisers across the charities were asked a series of questions about their fundraising programmes, their organisations and how they perceived the future of fundraising.
The report says the number of emergency donors "collapsed" from 660,000 in 2017/18 to 45,000 last year because there was no one major emergency.
"This presents a challenge to some participants for whom emergency appeals are a key form of recruitment and engagement," the report says.
James Briggs, founder of Open and author of the report, told Third Sector: "The decline was not entirely unexpected; the report demonstrates the challenging environment fundraisers are currently operating in."
He said charities integrating all public-facing functions could be important for future success.
"For a long time fundraising has existed in a silo, but that traditional model of treating it as an isolated, transactional function does not really work any more," said Briggs.
Fewer than half of the charities surveyed reported that they had hit their fundraising targets in the most recent year, compared with 89 per cent of charities in the previous reporting round.
Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the Institute of Fundraising, which supported the report, acknowledged that it was "a challenging time" for fundraisers.
"We know it’s a challenging environment out there for fundraising, but we don’t often get to see what’s under the bonnet of the sector and look at real numbers and figures that can help us understand what is happening and what the trends are," he said.
Other findings revealed that the acquisition of new supporters had fallen significantly as a priority for respondents, from 37 per cent in 2018 to just 18 per cent in 2019.
By contrast, the desire for charities to innovate in their models of fundraising increased from 15 per cent to 23 per cent.
Respondents identified digital skills deficits as a key challenge to be overcome, with almost seven in 10 (67 per cent) of charities reporting the need for them to be further developed.
"It’s clear that charities are changing their approaches and focusing on innovation and digital opportunities – and that the skills in these areas remain a priority," said Fluskey.
"While costs have gone up generally in the sector, the value of fundraising and investment is borne out in this report, and the potential growth in generating further support from the high levels of digital engagement is a real opportunity."
Briggs warned that, for fundraising to thrive in the future, charity leaders must work to supply potential donors with a range of options for giving.
"Recognise that, wherever they go, supporters are offered choice and control," he said. "Even gym memberships, things that used to be inflexible, are highly flexible, and those companies will do everything in their power to make that relationship rewarding.
"It’s time for charities to evolve those models of giving, or risk people cancelling."
Charities that want to participate in the next survey for the Charity Benchmarks Report can email hello@opencreates to find out more.