It feels like not a day goes by without some attack on the UK’s charitable sector. Be it fundraising or finances, UK charities are experiencing new levels of scrutiny from the press, the public and Government bodies.
Fundraising has been particularly under fire, notably the tactics utilised by third party agencies to contact individuals, with the methods of door to door and phone calls receiving the most criticism. The press have been full of stories of unscrupulous techniques such as the targeting of vulnerable individuals and persistent calling. This has subsequently prompted a Government review, led by the NCVO Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, into the current model of self-regulation. Whilst his recommendations are unlikely to come into effect any time soon, it does raise the question of what charities will need to do to safeguard their income in a period of diminishing Government support and changing public opinion.
Charities do have alternatives to signing up the general public, but despite these alternatives a sizable amount of a charity’s voluntary income is derived from individual gifts, such as text donations, collections and direct debits. A financial report from one major international charity stated that 30% of their total income and over 50% of their voluntary income comes from these sources. These are substantial contributions and a reduction in these funds would more than likely impair operations. There are many alternative options for rebalancing the fundraising model and charities should consider focussing their future investment, development and recruitment around some specific activities:
The Unicef 2015 Halloween Ball raised £1.6m, this figure does include funds donated by the UK Government, but nonetheless it is a substantial amount. Furthermore in 2014 the Cauldwell Children Butterfly Ball raised £2.5m, demonstrating the potential for special events to contribute significantly to a charity’s bottom line. This suggests that a greater focus on high profile events could be a way for fundraising teams to mitigate a decreased emphasis on individual gifts. Many UK charities already appear to be considering this, as a quick search online revealed 151 advertised events vacancies!
Despite the fact that more and more companies are investing in their CSR programmes, corporate partnerships typically still only make up a small fraction of a charity’s income. One leading international children’s charity sited corporate partnerships providing only 6% of their voluntary income and less than 3% of their total income, only a fraction of what is potentially available. If charities were to increase the amount of time and resource they invest in building packages that engage companies, meet CSR objectives and excite employees they could capitalise on the potential this channel clearly holds.
No blog on fundraising would be complete without mentioning the power of social media. Viral campaigns have engaged millions and raised similar amounts, for example the ‘make-up free selfie’ campaign generated £2m for Cancer Research UK. The following ‘ice bucket challenge’ went on to raise £7m for the Motor Neurone Disease charity in the UK and much more for other organisations globally. However, there are no certainties when it comes to these campaigns; it is impossible to say what will go viral, and subsequently translate into public donations and an influx of funds - whilst very welcome, they should be considered as one off windfalls. Nonetheless whilst sometimes difficult to quantify, raising awareness via social media does have a value and the following interest and support over the years may significantly change a charity’s reach and ultimately its balance sheet. An investment in web analytics, and a strong social media and branding team may not pay dividends immediately but the long-term pay off could be substantial and therefore it should not be overlooked.
With fundraising there are no certainties or guarantees that a new product or focus on different campaigns will pay off. The odds however can be moved in an organisation’s favour through portraying the right story and by employing those that are passionate, committed and understand the individuals they are working with.
William Pringle is a Principal Consultant in the Not for Profit Practice at Berwick Partners.