Do Brits lie about their charitable giving?

This weekend I found myself having  a row with someone I’ve never met, in front of hundreds of people that I don’t know. The row occurred on Twitter with an American who disagreed with my take on some new research about whether or not Brits lie about their charitable giving.

Last Friday, the Chronicle of Philanthropy (@Philanthropy) tweeted a provocative message:  ‘Almost Half of Britons Have Lied About Giving’. As a Brit, and as someone whose job it is to understand giving, I was personally and professionally compelled to find out  more. The story behind the tweet can be found here on the Chronicle website, which itself contains a link to the original story posted here on the Channel 4 website, reporting on the findings of a survey of 2,000 Brits. Here’s the crucial extract that led to the inflammatory headline:

Almost half (47%) confessed they had lied about having change to donate

Ah, the relief of reading the story behind the headline. Half my fellow citizens are not going around pretending to have made donations when they haven’t, they’re just telling white lies when confronted with unprompted ‘asks’, to save the egos of all involved. That’s not deceit, that’s good manners!

I’m a big fan of face-to-face fundraising, it’s a tough and important job and I know it succeeds in recruiting new supporters who don’t respond to other fundraising techniques such as direct mail. But the rise of face-to-face, in addition to ubiquitous street collections, means that many of us are encountering more asks than ever before. We can’t respond to every ask with a donation, but nor do we wish to seem ungenerous to the cause or unkind to the person doing the asking.

Let’s assume my philanthropic preference is for tackling global poverty, that I make regular donations to a few international aid charities and am willing to hear more about charities working in that field. So when I emerge from the tube and walk straight into someone shaking a tin for ‘Save the Pet’ or hoping to sign me up for a direct debit to ‘Ballet for All’, how do I disengage with minimal time and fuss without causing offence to the fundraiser or their cause? Trapped by politeness, I excuse myself with a pragmatic rationale: “Sorry I’ve got no change” or “Sorry I’m in a rush, no time to talk”, and we go our separate ways, with everyone’s ego and sense of purpose in life still intact.

So let’s have no more intemperate headlines about duplicitous Brits. We’re not tight, we’re just well brought up.

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