A renaissance for local fundraising

How charities expect the cold financial climate to revive local giving

Macmillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning event
Macmillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning event

As legacies and corporate donations dwindle, fundraisers are banking on individual donors to help them through the economic slump.

"In a recession, individual giving traditionally suffers less than other forms of fundraising," says Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising. "Charities may lose some individual donors, but they won't lose all of them."

For many charities, this means a return to local fundraising, which has often been perceived as the poor relation of other more lucrative and less time -consuming forms of fundraising in recent years.

Boswell cites a dramatic increase in the number of local Race for Life events coordinated by Cancer Research UK, and the growth of Macmillan Cancer Support's World's Biggest Coffee Morning and the Barnardo's Big Toddle as evidence of the increasing popularity of nationally coordinated local events.

He says the trend pre-dates the credit crunch and has been fuelled by technological advances that make it easier to coordinate local volunteers. But he says even charities that have been slow off the mark will feel the benefits of investing more in local fundraising, not only as belts tighten but also when they loosen again.

"Those charities that come out of the recession with a broad portfolio of fundraising activity will be able to ride the economic upturn when it comes," says Boswell.

Third Sector spoke to a national charity that fundraises locally, a community foundation that tries to stimulate local giving and a local charity to see what trends in local fundraising they envisage.


More than £30m of Macmillan Cancer Support's £120m annual income comes from community fundraising. The main source of this is the annual World's Biggest Coffee Morning. Last year's event raised £7m by encouraging the charity's local supporters to hold fundraising coffee mornings around the country.

Richard Lee, head of Macmillan's 150-strong community fundraising team, predicts other national charities will attempt to replicate this by creating their own events that tap into local fundraising. "Some charities have seen community fundraising as a bit of a dumping ground in the past," he says. "Most of the bigger ones are rethinking their approach to it now."

Macmillan divides England into seven regions for community fundraising. Each region is subdivided into four areas and each area has two or three fundraising managers leading local fundraising activities. Nationally, there are 500 local committees organising Macmillan events. "Some charities are nervous about asking volunteers to do anything more than administration, but we don't take that view," says Lee.

He says modern local fundraising is more targeted than in the past: "We are looking more at where we get our greatest returns."


The foundation, which awards grants to local community groups, received £2m in donations last year. George Hepburn, chief executive of the foundation, expects the figure to be about 30 per cent lower this year. Nevertheless, he says he is "pleasantly surprised" at how well donations are holding up and thinks the falls in income might not turn out to be as bad as people think.

"It's too early to say what will happen," he says. "We are reducing our budgets but some evidence suggests this may not be necessary. We have received one generous donation of £25,000 and the promise of another large gift in the past month. That's not bad."

Hepburn says he is surprised more charities don't target wealthy families. "Charities could benefit from building constructive relationships with them," he says.

He also thinks there is a danger that some voluntary organisations might use the recession as an excuse for poor performance.

"What worries me is people saying an organisation has closed because of the downturn," he says. "Often it is because it was a bad organisation. People said they had lost money because of the tsunami. But it's a bit too easy to cry wolf; let's not blame the credit crunch too readily.'


Jo Parry, events fundraiser at the Wirral-based trust, agrees that organisations such as hers, which raises money for cancer studies that could benefit people in the north-west of England, are well placed to survive the slowdown.

The charity derives almost all of its £1.59m annual income from local fundraising initiatives. "It's much larger donors and legacies that are affected," says Parry. "People have 50p for a collection tin at Matalan but not £150 for a ball ticket."

She also believes important local causes have an appeal that transcends economic worries. "If you have had cancer in the north west you are likely to have been treated by the centre, so we have a strong connection," she says.

Parry, who used to work for Oxfam, is based at Clatterbridge Hospital. "We see the people we are helping and our work benefits the entire region, so it is a powerful link," she says.


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