Reading tea leaves, #4: the growing divide between expectation and reality

Reading tea leaves, #4: the growing divide between expectation and reality

News (UK)
Tracking the impact of the recession on giving...

An interesting, and potentially disconcerting, trend appears to be emerging in the world of giving: a growing divide between the expectations of charities, in relation to recession, and those of donors.

In a week in which the top 100 philanthropists on this year’s Sunday Times Rich List increased their giving by 8% and the London Marathon raised a record £22.4m for charities, the NCVO report Charity Forecast: a quarterly survey of sector leaders states that 41% of respondents expect their organisation's general situation to worsen over the next year.

The survey also cites that 50% expect their financial position to worsen, which is an increase of 19 percentage points on the first survey in May 2008.

Of the 144 charity leaders - Chief Executives and Trustees - surveyed in February 2009, 88% or respondents believe economic conditions in the voluntary sector will be negative over the next 12 months, and only 42% expected to increase their expenditure, down 32 percentage points since February 2008.

In marked contrast are the findings from Justgiving’s March monitor that covers responses made to an online questionnaire throughout that month. Justgiving asked 2,692 people about their attitudes to giving in light of the economic downturn. They were selected randomly after making a donation to charity on the Justgiving website.

The monitor found that though 57% indicated some impact from the economic downturn, a slight increase of 5% on the January-February monitor, 8% of those affected by the recession increased their charitable giving. Even more heartening is the finding that 41% had not taken action to reduce their charitable giving despite be­ing affected by the downturn.

More enlightening still is the finding that, “As with the first monitor of January to February, most intend to carry on giving, with very few saying that they plan to stop giving. There is little or no change to responses, with a consistent 61% of those surveyed indicating that they won’t reconsider how much they give to charity.”

This is also reflected in the record fundraising for the London Marathon. Participants raised £22.4m according to, 7% higher than the 2008 total. Whilst the average donation had fallen to £29.50, from £32 in 2008, an increase in the number of donors had more than compensated. And just under £1.6m was donated through the Justgiving site on 24 April (two days before the London Marathon), the highest figure the site has raised in any 24-hour period to date.

So where does the divide between charities’ expectations and donor activity lay? The reasons are far more complex and the answers beyond the scope of Reading tea leaves, so perhaps we should give the last word on the subject in this issue to Dr John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation.

Speaking to the press in response to the continuing dedication of wealthy donors, despite the recession, and the robust giving highlighted in the Sunday Times Giving List, Low stated: “It’s important that charities do not talk themselves into recession.”

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