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Looking for new funds? Pass the ice-bucket

17 October 2014

As charities seek to attract a new generation of donors, they are having to find more targeted methods, reports Nick Jowett

AT A time when many people are worse off than they used to be, an important question for charities in Britain should be: who actually gives to charity, and who doesn't?

On a recent visit to the UK headquarters of the overseas disability charity CBM, its head of supporter growth, Robin Baker, gave me some interesting answers.

Those born before the Second World War are the most likely to respond to appeals, possibly because they lived in a period of turmoil and retain an overwhelming desire to see a better world.

The Baby-Boomer generation will also respond to appeals, but they are more likely to want some accountability from the charity they support, to know how their money is being spent. As for Generation X (now in their thirties and forties), preoccupation with mortgage and family prevents a strong response to charity appeals. People in their twenties are attracted by fun TV events such as Children in Need, but rarely follow up with regular committed support.

Mr Baker reported that CBM's best source of regular income is direct mail. CBM writes to people, often Christians, whose interests and motivations match the organisation's. It then updates them regularly. Face-to-face appeals - on the street or door to door - get some good immediate results, but the drop-out rate of those who sign up for a direct debit is high: half are gone after one year, virtually all after five.

SOME types of charity are much more popular than others. A recent survey for the Charities Aid Foundation suggested that 26 million people in Britain donated to medical, hospital, or children's charities each month. Only five million gave to charities working with disabled, elderly, and homeless people; and a mere 1.6 million funded work on the environment.

Caroline Fiennes is founder and director of Giving Evidence, a consultancy that promotes evidence-based giving. Writing for the Philanthropy Review in 2011, and drawing on a body of research from various sources into British values, beliefs, and motivations over the past 40 years, she presented evidence that people's attitude to giving was strongly conditioned by their values. It can be divided into three broad groups according to Abraham Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs:

• "Sustenance-driven" people, who are socially conservative, concerned with tradition, belonging, and things local, and who like discipline and keeping to the rules, and whose primary need is safety and security. They are the least likely to give to charity, and, if they do, will prefer charities for hospitals or the military.

• "Outer-directed" people, who are driven by needing the esteem of others, who want to be seen to succeed, who love socialising, and who may be early adopters but are not innovators. This group is attracted to charities that help people to improve themselves, or support children or disabled people.

• "Inner-directed" people, who are looking for ethical and intellectual stimulation, who are always questioning and are at ease with change, and who are the most globally minded of all the groups. Religious influence is strong in this group, and, in contrast with the other two groups, they are very likely to support overseas charities.

And what about men and women? The NCVO figures for 2010/11 show that 61 per cent of women donated money to charity, compared with 56 per cent of men. The median donation among women was £13 compared with £10 from men.

It follows from all this evidence that an older religious woman, strongly sharing the ethos and aims of a charity, is the very best source for a large and regular donation to the world's neediest people.

There is an obvious problem here: more than half of all donations given in the UK come from those aged 60 or above. According to a 2013 CAF study, charities derive 66 per cent of the time and money given to them from just nine per cent of the population. One quarter (24 per cent) of the population do little or nothing for charity.

MS FIENNES has some ideas for attracting the sustenance-driven and the outer-directed people to give to charity. For the former, the emphasis in fund-raising campaigns must be on security, the local effect, and preserving something valuable - and on giving that doesn't feel like a loss: for example, giving away half the interest on a bank account.

For the latter, Ms Fiennes commends Comic Relief for creating the impression that "everyone is doing this"; and happenings such as the Ice Bucket Challenge, which make giving something fun to be talked about and shared on social networks, thus appealing to younger people.

The people who have quietly supported CBM for years, donating in response to news of suffering in the world, may feel a shudder of distaste at the idea of a stronger emphasis on charity's beginning at home, or of mixing charity with showbiz happenings and Facebook silliness; but how, otherwise, are charities to attract wider funding? Heart-rending appeals will not reach all parts in our society, and, without fresh thinking, the graphs will not point upwards.

It is sobering to reflect that the Church is facing exactly the same problem when it attempts to attract people from beyond its usual circle of donors.

Canon Nick Jowett is a retired priest in the diocese of Sheffield.

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