Policy, Government and the Voluntary Sector, Fundraising

Keep calm and carry on asking: fundraising in the cost-of-living crisis

Fundraising is difficult right now, but keep on going!

With inflation shocking the economy and putting pressure on our standard of living, charity fundraisers may feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, many charity services are ever more needed, and on the other, ‘making the ask’ may seem daunting given the financial pressures on current and potential donors.  

Fortunately, the available data shouldn’t put off fundraisers’ confidence. Over the longer-term, charitable giving in the UK is very stable. Although there are fluctuations in the total amount of giving and some changes to what causes people support over time, the overall trends are very consistent. Recently, the war in Ukraine prompted record-setting level of donations, and similar events in the past have influenced the figures substantially. But demographic and other wider social trends mostly drive who gives, how, and how much.  

Against this backdrop, recent YouGov polling commissioned by CharityComms, the membership network for charity communications professionals, sheds some useful light on where the ‘public’ mindset may be right now. This data shows plenty of cause for optimism for fundraisers and raises some interesting questions. 

Who’s donating what? 

The good news is that the proportions of people who say they’re donating recently remains in line with other available data, and respondents support what charities are doing to help people in the cost-of-living crisis. 41% say they’ve donated money in the past three months, and 44% say they’ve donated goods to a charity shop. As in other similar surveys, older people, retired people and women remain the most likely donors – for these subcategories around half say they’ve donated in the past three months. 

Very encouragingly for fundraisers, 69% of respondents said it was ‘important for charities to seek both financial and non-financial aid from their supporters, during the current cost of living crisis.’ Also, 76% say ‘relevant charities should be providing help and support to those who are most affected by the current cost of living crisis’ 

These stats should be a huge morale boost for fundraisers and their charities too. Even if individuals may struggle to give or give as much in the past, they overwhelmingly say they support charities ‘making the ask’ and want charities to be involved in addressing the crisis. 

What about future donations? 

Drilling down into the detail a bit more, there are some less conclusive results for fundraisers to consider. In the context of the cost-of-living crisis, when respondents were asked ‘if they would be more or less likely to cancel or reduce a direct debit to a charity, in comparison to reducing your spending on social activities’, 24% answered affirmatively and 24% negatively. The proportions of people saying more likely and less likely were the same, with a big chunk of neither in the middle. The figures when respondents were asked if they were more or less likely to donate financially because of the cost-of-living crisis were a bit more weighted towards less likely, but 50% said they’d be more likely to donate goods. 

The internet rules 

There’s much more detail in the poll, but one final finding to note is that 69% stated ‘internet search’ as the main way they would look for information about charities and their services – by contrast only around 10% saying newspaper or television/radio. The figure was above 60% across all age groups, geographical areas and social classes. Even more surprisingly, people over 35 were more likely to say this than people under 35! 

So what can all this data tell fundraisers and charities about their donors right now? 

1.  Keep askingdonors for support. The old adage that if you don’t ask you don’t get remains as true as ever. The data suggest that even if there are some headwinds against donating cash, there’s still plenty of public support for charity fundraising, especially related to those charities or causes that are dealing with the social effects of the crisis like food banks, mental health services, and homelessness. Even if individuals can’t donate, they clearly support charities asking: so don’t be tempted to put public campaigns off or disinvest in your fundraising capacity!  

2. It may be that charities experience more donor turnover, so don’t neglect donor recruitment and retention. The data about the effects of spending decisions on donor behaviour aren’t conclusive but could indicate more ‘churn’ than usual, with some people cancelling direct debits, but also new donors becoming available. Not replacing lapsed donors during this period could negatively impact future income. 

3. Think about what else donors can do for you. Respondents to the poll clearly appreciate charities’ role in responding to the current crisis and advocating for the people affected, so there may be other things you can ask of donors, like supporting a campaign for policy change or sharing helpful information and advice. 

4. Maximise charity shops and other non-cash means of support. If people are more willing to donate in-kind rather than cash due to financial pressures, fundraisers can still make this work for their charities. Demand for goods in charity shops is high as people look to make their money stretch further (38% of respondents said they had bought goods from a charity shop in the past three months). Make sure you get Gift Aid on those in-kind donations too! 

5. Ensure your online presence is as good as it can be, with clear paths to donate. Many charities are already excellent at this, but the pandemic has likely accelerated pre-existing trends towards consuming information and even receiving services digitally. If you’re deciding between spending on a fundraising appeal in the local paper or tuning up that donate button on your website and linking it with your social media, this data suggests you should invest in the latter.  

In many ways these points will hold true even when more normal circumstances return, so fundraisers should take heart, keep calm and carry on asking! 

This article was originally published on the Benefact website. 



Charities Aid Foundation, UK Giving 2022 

YouGov, Fieldwork for CharityComms webinar 

(Total sample size was 2009 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken 14th – 15th September 2022. The survey was carried out online. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).