As the old saying goes, ‘charity begins at home’…

A fairly loose proverb that means you should take care of one’s family before caring for others. It’s a phrase often banded around whenever donating to charity is mentioned, and one I’m sure charities dread hearing.

2018 was a tough year for charities, and 2019 doesn’t look like it will be any easier. With the cost of living increasing and wages still struggling to catch up, when the belts are tightened often the first thing to go is any form of charitable donation – or the well-intentioned gym membership that seemed like a good idea in January!

Public confidence in charities has been shaken by the myriad of public scandals in the sector over the last few years, with calls for more transparency and accountability growing in both number and urgency. To gauge the public’s opinion we used the TLF Panel and asked nearly 3,000 of our panellists about their experiences of dealing with charities – what they liked and disliked, who they donated to, and what could be done to increase the frequency and/or amount people donated. Some results were expected – no-one enjoys being stopped by charity workers, or ‘chuggers’, in the street – but others were a surprise, keep reading to find out more…

It’s Better to Give Than to Receive

To get the ball rolling, and to give us a feel for how charitable the panel are, we first asked:

“Have you donated to charity in the last 2 years?”

…and it’s safe to say that our panel are a generous bunch, with 84.8% of them saying yes!

Interestingly, of the cities we surveyed the most generous one was Southampton, with 90.1% of Sotonians saying they have donated within the last 2 years, compared to the least generous city which was Liverpool with a, still respectable, 79.7% of Liverpudlians donating within the last 2 years.

“What is the main reason you haven’t donated to charity in the last 2 years?”

We then asked the remaining 15.2% why they hadn’t donated to charity:

The main reason people hadn’t contributed to charity in the last 2 years, with an overwhelming 43%, was that they couldn’t afford to, followed by 21.9% saying they didn’t trust charities, 13.9% saying they preferred to contribute in different ways, 12.6% saying they didn’t like being hounded for donations and finally, 7.5% saying that they hadn’t yet found a worthwhile cause.

Interestingly, the results change quite significantly when broken down by gender:

15% of women say they haven’t donated because they don’t trust charities, but men have much bigger trust issues, with over double the amount claiming distrust, at 32.4%!

And when it comes to being able to afford to donate, this is more of a concern for women, with 49.6% saying they can’t afford to donate to charity compared to 33.1% of men.

Generally, women prefer to contribute in a different way at 15.5% compared to men’s 11.5%, but men have more of an issue with being put off by being hounded for donations at 14.9% compared to women’s 11.1%.

When you compare the age extremes the results vary again:

Trust in charities seems to diminish with age, with 19% of 18-24 year olds claiming they don’t trust charities compared to 33.3% of 65+ year olds, which doesn’t help when you consider that 42.9% of 18–24 year olds can’t afford to donate to charity, compared to only 18.5% of over 65’s – perhaps charities will see an increase in donations if they seek to win the trust of the older generations who have more disposable income.

When looking how to win over the over 65’s, charities must ensure they don’t pester them too much as 22.2% said the main reason they hadn’t donated in the last 2 years was that they don’t like being hounded for donations. This wasn’t such a problem with 18–24 year olds, with only 9.5% saying so.

“Charity should begin at home, but not stay there” – Phillips Brooks

 Of the 84.8% that had donated to charity in the last 2 years, we asked them which charity it was they donated to the last time they donated. The top 3, with over 40% of the results were:

  • Cancer Research – 17.7%
  • Macmillan Cancer Support – 11.5%
  • British Heart Foundation – 11.4%

The charities that made up the remaining 60% of the results were as follows:

Donations to these remaining charities were fairly similar in frequency, with the largest, Oxfam receiving 4.8% of the donations and the smallest, Sightsavers, receiving 0.8%. These results did not differ dramatically between age groups, gender or location.

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you” – Friedrich Nietzsche

After discovering how many of the panel had donated to charity – and which charities they were if they did, and the reasons why not if they didn’t – we then asked them:

“In general, do you trust that charities spend donations in an appropriate manner?”

Even after the scandals in recent years, it looks like the public’s confidence in how charities spend their money has not been drastically affected – 53.7% of people said that they trust how charities spend their money, with 22.5% saying they didn’t know. This left only 23.9% that gave an emphatic ‘No, they did not trust how charities spent their money’, not bad considering the last few years the sector has had publicity-wise.

Although men had bigger trust issues when it came to our earlier question asking why they hadn’t donated in the last 2 years, it seems that once they trust a charity enough to donate they are also more trusting with how the charity spends the money, with 58.1% of men trusting how charities spend their money compared to only 50.9% of women. Women are also more likely to not know if they trust that charities spend their donations appropriately, with 26.5% saying ‘Don’t know’ compared to 16.1% of men.

When broken down by age the results are very interesting, with a staggering 70.6% of 18-24 year olds saying they trust how charities spend their donations, compared to 50.4% of over 65’s, and only 17.6% saying they definitely did not trust how their donations were spent, compared to 30.2% of over 65’s.

“Which major charity do you trust the most?”

The most trusted charity was Cancer Research, with 16.3% of the vote, closely followed by Macmillan Cancer Support with 15.3% and then British Heart Foundation with 8.6%. This order mirrors the top 3 charities people had donated to in the last year, showing that, perhaps obviously, the more trusted charities receive more donations – image really is key.

The reasons why people trusted them fell into 5 main categories:

‘Good reputation’ was, as always, number 1, with 64.9% of the vote. Following this was ‘they support a cause I’m interested in’ with 41.3% and then, just behind was ‘positive brand perception’ with 39.9%, again highlighting the importance of brand perception and reputation, two things that are incredibly hard to quantify.*

* (This question was multiple choice, which is why the percentages add up to more than 100% when totalled)

“Which major charity do you trust the least?”

Now we have established the most trusted charity, it was time to discover the dreaded least trusted one. Unsurprisingly, with 34.9% of the vote, Oxfam was the least trusted. A tough few years, with Oxfam being in the headlines on several occasions, have seriously tarnished the charities reputation, and as shown above, this really matters to donors.

When asked why they don’t trust charities, the results were almost converse to the reasons why they did trust them:

“How have the recent headlines in the news about charities influenced your trust in them?”

The majority of panellists, 44.7%, said they trust them less, with only 8.1% saying they trust them more. 32.4% were not changed at all and 14.8% were undecided.

These figures serve to highlight what we said at the beginning of this article; with public confidence in charities at a low ebb, now is a good time for them to work on brand image and reputation.

Finally, we asked the panel what charities could do to increase the frequency/chance of receiving donations. They were given a variety of options and could pick as many of them as they deemed appropriate. The results, in descending order, with the most popular at the top and least popular at the bottom were as follows:

What could charities do to increase the frequency/chance of you donating to them? Select all that apply.
Be more transparent with how your money is spent 55.4%
Offer more variety in the amount(s) you can pay 25.8%
Change their fundraising techniques 21.5%
Offer more variety in the way in which you can pay 15.1%
Provide frequent, easily available newsletters 14.2%
Advertise less 11.9%
Advertise more 7.3%
Other 6.5%

Interestingly, any form of advertising take the bottom two least popular places – whether it’s advertising more, or less – with a combined 19.2% of the vote. Perhaps charities should start moving their focus away from advertising and into different fundraising techniques and ways/amounts donors can pay, as these 3 options are very popular with people, taking spots 2, 3 and 4 on the list.

But the key take away here is that, by quite some way, the one thing charities could do to increase donations is be more transparent with how they spend their money, with 55.4% of the vote. With this being a hot topic in the Private Sector recently, perhaps we will start to see more visible accountability in the charity sector too, it looks like it would certainly be of benefit to both charities and their prospective donors.

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