Allow me to begin by setting a now familiar scene… The advent of austerity signals the big squeeze for charities – rapid changes in the funding environment leaves charities with fewer resources to meet a rising demand for their services. Yet within the charity sector we seem to be caught somewhere between ‘rabbit-in-headlights’ and finger-pointing with fervent debate on just how ‘predatory’ our sector really is. Perhaps I’m missing a trick but there must be a better way to help preserve the safety nets we have built for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
This week we learnt the results of recent poll into our nation’s giving habits conducted by the Give More campaign. The findings reinforced our understanding of how generous the UK really is – 62% of people surveyed had given time, money or energy to their favourite causes in the last six months. But we already knew that ours was a giving nation and that despite economic malaise the proportion of adults giving to charity has in fact increased in the last year to 58% (UK Giving 2011). So even when the great British public are tightening their belts they will continue to give to the causes they most care about.
The polling also showed that the public is genuinely concerned about the big squeeze facing our charities – 51% of people surveyed believe that need in their local community had increased in the last 12 months and a further 57% of people surveyed believe we’re likely to see need increasing in the next 12 months. So not only are our supporters giving more, not less, to charity in hard times, they are also under no illusion of how tough it is out there for charities. We then learn that when asked about their giving, 26% of people in the UK – that’s around 12.5 million adults – say they could give more than they currently do. So what are we waiting for?
Right now, we need to put our British reluctance to ask for help to one side and call on our supporters to give more of their time, energy and money at a time when it’s most needed.
This is where the Give More campaign comes in. Launched in April, the 12-month campaign aims to get people across the UK thinking about their giving and pledging to give more to their favourite causes at a time when their support can make the most difference. It is a refreshing response to keeping services alive through austerity, which surely sits more comfortably with our sector’s own values?
As a donor, the campaign allowed me to think about my giving and to consider giving more in a way that suited me. So I pledged my commitment to increase my giving to one of my favourite charities – the Fawcett Society. I then contacted the charity and asked them to treble my monthly direct debit donation. Because in reality I believe that I, and many others, can economise to channel a few extra pounds to charity each month.
As a fundraiser for Gingerbread I know that single parent families will be one of the groups that will be most affected by imminent changes to the welfare system. Half a million families who are already struggling to make ends meet are likely to lose out on entitlements. This year, more than ever before we will rely on the generosity of our supporters to keep providing expert advice to single parents whose circumstances are likely to change for example. And it is our duty not to be shy about asking our supporters to give more.
Thousands of charities have a similar story to tell. The Give More campaign is a mechanism through which the charitable sector can articulate the support we need and ask people to give more, at a time when we – and those we support – need it most. We can and must go public with this message. Working together we can make 2012 a bumper year when the great British public digs deep to do all they can to give to charity.
Rowena Lewis is director of fundraising at Gingerbread and former project lead for the Philanthropy Review. She is on the steering group for Give More, a 12-month campaign to encourage people to give more, and to get us all talking more about giving. For more information about the campaign, and to pledge your support, visit www.givemore.org.uk