Philanthropy, Research, Trends

Major charities hang on to slim margin of income growth

The Spotlight Top 100 Fundraisers report 2018 measures the annual financial results of the major charities against their own performance in the previous year. This gives a highly reliable indicator of change. It shows the major charities hanging onto to a slim margin of fundraising income growth in 2016/17, at 0.7%. (after inflation) This finding suggests the sector is on slippery ice.

The charity brand has come under unprecedented onslaught in the last two years. This is partly down to own goals – weak governance, poor fundraising standards and some unforgivable treatment of women.  It is also down to unprecedented external threats from governments distrustful of charities’ advocacy powers and fearful of public welfare criticism. Not to mention ministers visibly critical of charities’ public image. All this is coming at a time when statutory funding for charities’ services is shrinking markedly as a result of public spending reductions. The Spotlight report shows it fell by around 2% in 2016/17.

Public perceptions are a ticking time-bomb for charities, with enormous power to inspire or derail public generosity. On the positive side, for example, large charities working in mental health, homelessness and the environment had excellent fundraising results, directly linked to high-profile public awareness campaigns around these issues. We need to inspire more public giving, not less, an ambition shared by hard-pressed governments. Consumer loyalties can switch at the drop of a hat. From banks to film studios, major institutions have gone bankrupt overnight when clients lost faith -the demise of Kids Company shows charities are no exception.

Charities are now rightly putting their house in order, upgrading and ensuring compliance in data protection and donor communications, and reviewing governance and safeguarding procedures. But this is the long game. The charity market is highly competitive and has no monopoly on ways of changing the world. The resilience of the major charities in attracting and keeping public support shown in 2016/17 suggest fears of donor flight and an imminent ‘run on the bank’  may be exaggerated. Nonetheless the fundraising income growth rate was the lowest for years, and the sector is still absorbing the shockwaves of the sexual misconduct scandal.  If giving is to be maintained and hopefully grown at a time of need, re-inforcing public trust needs to get under way fast. Communications must become a positive tool,  raising awareness of the centrality of charities, our dependence on their contribution towards progress in science and medicine, our world-class excellence in arts and culture, and the help for those at the sharp end of rising levels of poverty, hunger and financial exclusion in our divided society.