Just had a call from BBC Radio Devon asking me to join a live discussion tomorrow morning about the effect of the recession on animal charities. The famous Donkey Sanctuary is based in Devon, it employs a lot of people and brings in tourists, so it’s undoubtedly a big issue in that area.
I’ve spoken and written quite often recently about the need for charities to avoid publicly panicking, as we risk talking ourselves into a giving recession. There’s no reason to assume that donations will be the first thing to be cut when times get tough, but that becomes more likely if the sector unintentionally sends out a message that it’s perfectly normal to do so. Norms really matter in giving: we’ve spent years trying to build a ‘culture of giving’ in the UK and we risk undoing it in a matter of weeks, with careless talk of donations falling off a cliff and financial black holes in charity budgets.
Anyway, back to the animals. Earlier this week I saw some new data from the US, based on 36 million donations made to 75 of the country’s biggest charities . Interestingly the research (conducted by Target Analytics the research division of software company Blackbaud) showed that individual giving has been in decline since 2005, ie well before the current economic turmoil began. It also finds that two types of charity have bucked the trend: international relief organisations and animal welfare charities. Last year, animal charities in the US reported an increase of 3.1% in their donor base and a 5.1% increase in contributions.
Apparently the debate on Radio Devon will feature the RSPCA, the Donkey Sanctuary and a small animal shelter all describing a double whammy of increased demand and falling donations. Then it’s my job to explain that the research doesn’t necessarily fit that picture. If I’m feeling brave I’ll also make the point that brinkmanship can be a successful tool in fundraising – “if you don’t donate, we might have to close”. As a new report from NCVO and the University of Southampton shows, ‘crying wolf’ is a risky tactic. This study, written by Karl Wilding and Professor John Mohan, concludes that charitable giving remains generally constant, despite occasional economic downturns, because the underlying picture is one of long-term stability, even if there is some short-term turbulence: http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-85.html