Changes to the accounting practices of charities would make a fundamental difference to the quality of research on giving, according to Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Speaking at a session called The Great Giving Debate – So is Giving Going Up? at the Institute of Fundraising’s national convention in London yesterday, Wilding called for a revised statement of recommended practice that required charities to show sources of income and reported how much Gift Aid charities reclaim.
Earlier, Peter Lewis, chief executive of the institute, had said the way the NCVO’s UK Giving 2012 was reported in the mainstream media was unhelpful. The survey found that there had been a 20 per cent fall in the value of donations.
Lewis said the report, which was put together with the Charities Aid Foundation and based on a survey of 3,000 people, showed what people had said they would do rather than what they had actually done. There was a risk of creating a social norm, with people thinking "if everyone is giving less, I can give less", said Lewis.
Wilding said: "I’ve been told endlessly that all we need to do is look at charity accounts and then we’ll really know how much people are giving to charity. I’m sorry, no – I’ve spent 15 years looking at tens of thousands of charity accounts, and they are not good enough."
Wilding said one way to improve research on giving would be a better Sorp. "How we can change charity accounting will make a fundamental difference to our knowledge of the giving landscape, but there is not the political pressure behind it," he said.
He said although the 20 per cent fall in giving during 2011/12 generated nearly all the headlines, the report provided other useful insights – for example, that the median gift fell from £11 to £10 and the proportion of the population giving monthly fell from 58 per cent to 55 per cent.
"I will stand here now and say I don’t think we got the messaging right," he said. "I absolutely stand by my research. I’m confident we do the best research in the business.
"We are trying to measure a complex set of behaviour, attitudes and activities over different time periods. We need to be realistic and we need to be clear about our objectives and what we are trying measure. Some of what you want to measure, we can’t."
Wilding called for HM Revenue & Customs to make open to researchers the pool of data available through Charities Online, the new system for filing Gift Aid claims online.
Lewis said that recent HMRC figures showed Gift Aid claims were up last year, which would indicate that individual giving was holding up. Early figures from the Charity Commission also showed that voluntary income was going up, although this was not yet definitive, he said.