Category Archives: Philanthropy Research

Charity Shops: Between a rock and a kind face

This post is written by Dr Triona Fitton, Pears Philanthropy Fellow at the University of Kent.

A recent report published by the True and Fair Foundation (TFF) into income generation in the charity sector has once again brought to public attention the dilemma facing charitable organisations with a retail arm: What are charity shops really for?

The report highlights the low profit margins of charity shops, averaging 17%, with some large charities such as Scope making only a 5% profit margin in their shops; 13% less than high street giant Next, using for-profit retailers as a benchmark for charity shop success. Recommendations for a reduction in charity shop mandatory rate relief (they currently pay 80% less than other high street retailers, with the option for local councils to grant a discretionary 100% rate relief) also suggests that charity shops should not be treated any differently to for-profit shops. The comparisons in the report treats charities as ‘for-profits in disguise’, to paraphrase Burton Weisbrod; where their commercial output is more important than their charitable cause.

The TFF report has been criticised for its misrepresentation of statistics and flawed analysis, with several umbrella bodies and charities featured in the report such as Sue Ryder and Guide Dogs for the Blind speaking out against inaccuracies that undermine the work of their charity shops. Nevertheless, I would argue that the problem with the report goes beyond that of misrepresentation or poor quality research. Crucially, the report has fundamentally misunderstood the value of charity shops.

Firstly, charity shops are an important resource for those on low incomes for everyday items, as well as for second-hand bargain hunters in search of unique purchases. In spite of claims that they are becoming prohibitively expensive, Avril Maddrell and Susan Horne argue in their book Charity Shops: Retailing, Consumption and Society that many charity shops price their goods dependent upon what local people can afford, ensuring they don’t price themselves out of their local market. My own research into charity shops also found that a smaller shop without the pressure of competition within a chain of shops was more likely to price goods down rather than up. Also, haggling prices down or ‘letting people off’ a few pounds continues to occur.

Secondly, a charity shop provides some welcome relief from consumerism and its malcontents. The tendency towards ‘fast fashion’ and the disposal of items before they are at the end of their use is balanced by the donation of these goods to charity. The Giving Something Back report by Demos reports that the reuse of goods sold in charity shops reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 3.7 million tonnes a year – a figure similar to the entire carbon footprint of Iceland. Charity shops are, according to a report by WRAP UK, the most common source for pre-owned clothing in the UK, which goes some way towards reducing the £140m worth of clothing that ends up in landfill each year.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, charity shops are the public face of a charity on the British high street. They raise awareness of smaller organisations that do not already have a high public profile; they work to embed a charity within a community through recruitment of volunteers and involvement in local events; and they provide a friendly, welcoming environment where browsing and chatting is encouraged. They are also a gateway point for entry into the local job market, with people of all ages learning skills and progressing to paid roles through volunteering in a charity shop.

Whilst charities more generally have been subject to a great deal of scrutiny in the past year for their fundraising practices and executive salaries; charity retail has, until now, emerged mostly unscathed. In response to this form of criticism, charity shops have an opportunity to defend the valuable asset they are to society; not only as an income source for charities but as an employability resource, a recycling site and as the ‘kind face’ of the UK high street.

7 days is also a long time in philanthropy

The political sphere normally lays claim to a monopoly on momentum, with the oft-quoted line: ‘a week is a long time in politics’. But the last 7 days have seen a huge amount of activity and new developments for philanthropy in the UK.

Firstly the 2015 Beacon awards were announced – including an extremely well deserved celebration of Trevor Pears, whose family foundation has generously supported our newest colleague, Pears Philanthropy Fellow Dr Triona Fitton.

Secondly, the annual Giving List, published as part of the annual Sunday Times Rich List in association with CAF, reported that the richest members of our society collectively gave away £2.6 billion last year, an 8% increase on the previous year, and including four people who gave away 9-figure sums (£100 million or more). Whilst the top spot on the main Rich List is now held by Len Blavatnik, who made one of the UK’s biggest-ever donations in 2010 (£75m to Oxford University), another generous donor, Richard Ross, has ‘donated himself off the Rich List’ by giving so much away.

Thirdly, a new academic centre has been launched at the LSE, which will help to advance the nascent field of philanthropic studies. All of us at Kent welcome the creation of The Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship and congratulate the founders and donors, Paul Marshall and Sir Tom Hughes Hallett, who discuss the thinking behind their exciting initiative in this article.

Here’s hoping the next 7 days are full of even more positive news for UK philanthropy.

The Morality of Charity: Five Key Questions

This blog is written by Dr Eddy Hogg, Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent

On Friday myself and 5 Kent colleagues attended a seminar at Cass Business School on The Peculiar Institution of Charity – the morality of charitable giving and receiving.  As a relatively new topic of academic study, the day threw up more questions than answers for me. Here are my five key questions:

  1. Does distance affect morality?

Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer uses the example of a drowning child  to explore the question of distance between donor and recipient: if you saw a child drowning and could save them but in the process ruin your £50 trainers, of course you would save the child – to walk past would be seen by all but the most cold-hearted as immoral. Yet when your £50 could be spent on trainers or could be donated to save the life of a child thousands of miles away, is this the same moral decision? To what extent should distance affect morality?

  1. Are tax breaks on charitable giving morally defensible?

The UK’s Gift Aid scheme allows charities to reclaim tax on charitable donations. When a donation is made using Gift Aid, therefore, the government loses tax income. In 2012, this was estimated to be worth over £1 billion in lost revenue for the government. Is it moral that such a significant sum is redirected away from government spending and into causes which are preferred by donors?

  1. How moral is fundraising?

Fundraising is a crucial and well-regulated function of the charitable sector. Research shows that being asked to give is the most common reason that people donate. Therefore, while the ask may feel uncomfortable for some donors, that fundraisers continue to ask is essential to the work of the sector. Users are generally relatively pragmatic about how charities fundraise – work by my colleague Beth Breeze and Jon Dean  found that recipients of charity understand the need to bring in money and the role that a heartstring-tugging advert can play in that.

  1. Is choosing which charities to give to a moral decision?

Is it moral to donate to donkeys while children starve? It is moral to volunteer at a foodbank while not protesting against policies in the name of austerity which continue to sanction people into poverty? The voluntary nature of giving means that donors can choose whether or not to engage with the question of whether it is more moral to give to one cause over another.

  1. Where is power in all this?

In the donor-charity-recipient relationship, who has the power? Donors can dictate which organisations are well resourced. The organisations can choose where to spend their funds. What power do the recipients have, apart from to refuse a gift?

The final question, of course, is what do we do next? Should we accept that such moral questions are inevitable given the voluntary nature of giving, and if so should we be encouraging donors to think more about them? Or should we seek to find answers to these questions, in doing so accepting the risk of imposing an absolute morality on what are voluntary decisions?



Secrets of online fundraising success

This blog is written by my colleague Dr Eddy Hogg:

Next month my wonderful Mum turns 70. To celebrate she is asking her family and friends to donate to the British Red Cross as she has volunteered for the British Red Cross Refugee Project since her retirement. To do so, she has made a page on JustGiving and sent details to all 107 people invited to her birthday barn dance. I was interested, then, to read a new working paper from the University of Warwick which looks at data from over 400,000 fundraisers who used JustGiving.

The type of fundraising that my Mum is doing – on her own and not part of a mass participation event – is in the minority. Only 17% of fundraisers who use JustGiving are not taking part in mass events such as Cancer Research UK’s ‘Race for Life‘ or the London Marathon. However, fundraisers who go it alone are the most successful on the site – they have a higher average number of donations and raise on average significantly a higher sums. So far, so good, but what else can my Mum (and other fundraisers, of course) do to raise as much for her chosen charity as possible?

Firstly, the paper (called ‘Online fundraising: the perfect ask?’) shows the value of setting targets. Campaigns with a target raise on average £122 more than those without, with donation size peaking as the target approaches, as donors try to be the one who pushes the campaign to its goal. The paper also shows the importance of the size of the first few donations – after one large donation, on average all subsequent donations are higher than those before the larger donation. One small donation has the opposite effect, with all subsequent donations being on average smaller than those that preceded the small donation.

The research by Abigail Payne (of McMaster University), Kimberley Scharf (of Warwick University) and Sarah Smith (of the University of Bristol) also contains a fascinating insight into the importance of who asks for online donations. Nearly three quarters of us always give when a family members asks us to, and almost two-thirds respond positively when a friend asks. In contrast, fewer than a quarter of us always give when a neighbour asks, just 10% of us give when a friend of a friend asks and fewer than 6% of us give when asked by a charity representative.

It seems, then, that my Mum’s Red Cross fundraising has done all the right things so far. Fingers crossed she reaches her £1,000 target!

The Warwick University report ‘Online Fundraising – the perfect ask?’ is available for free here and my Mum’s JustGiving page is here.

Debunking Philanthropic Myths

Just a quick blog today, as I start teaching the new intake of students on our Masters-level class in ‘Fundraising and Philanthropy’ this afternoon.

But I couldn’t resist sharing this link to an article called ‘Debunking Philanthropic Myths’ in the new edition of Alliance magazine. The title is a bit grandiose, as it only presents findings from a survey of US private foundation donors (it took me years to realise that many people use the word ‘philanthropy’ when they really mean ‘foundation philanthropy’). But nonetheless the report is worth a look.

Two main findings  jumped out at me:

Firstly, when asked, ‘How do you typically identify organizations for potential grants?’ 85.6% of respondents said, ‘We mostly find and choose organizations ourselves’ and only 7.9 % said, ‘We mostly fund organizations that submit proposals/requests to our foundation.’ If this situation is any where near comparable in the UK, that’s a lot of trust and foundation fundraisers who are on a hiding to nothing.

Secondly, impact is simply not as high a priority for the surveyed donors as we might imagine. To quote directly from the article:

Many in the philanthropic sector believe that if non-profits could provide hard evidence of results, donors would give more to the best-performing organizations. [But] our survey indicates that this isn’t necessarily the most important criterion. While 37.4 per cent cited ‘personal knowledge of/previous experience with the organization’ as the most important factor in determining whether to grant to a non-profit, only 25.6 per cent cited ‘clear evidence of demonstrable impact’.

This article is from the current online edition of Alliance magazine, if you’re not familiar with them, they will send a free sample edition for potential subscribers.

How I learnt that charity begins at home

This is a guest post written by Caroline Walsh,  Honorary Research Associate in the Kent Centre for Philanthropy:

The question of how we decide what causes to support, and whether or not charity begins at home, came into acute focus last November. Two major fundraising appeals were launched in the same week – the first to raise money for the victims in the Philippines of Typhoon Haiyan and the second was the annual BBC Children In Need appeal, raising funds for young people in the UK.

The Director of our Centre for Philanthropy, Dr Beth Breeze, appeared on Radio 4’s Moral Maze programme to discuss the question of whether or not charity begins at home (listen again here) but the question hit me in a far more personal way that month.

Research published by the Centre of Philanthropy (published in a report called How Donors Choose Charities) shows that donors give to charities that reflect their own personal passions and experiences. I found myself profoundly mirroring these findings and reflecting on this when my grandmother died in November 2013. As a scuba diver my donations of time and money have always been closely linked to this hobby, as I give time and money to marine conservation and related charities. Being born disabled I also have a strong affinity to social justice and social equality organisations. One could note that, perhaps selfishly, my philanthropic patterns have always reflected what had happened to me and my own personal experiences. or so I thought until my grandmother died and we lost her after 3.5 long years of having dementia. Giving to a health related charity, and asking others to collectively do the same, was outside my normal pattern of philanthropic behaviour, because dementia hadn’t happened to me – or so I thought until I reflected upon this a bit deeper.

Dementia has a profound and overwhelming effect on both the individual and the family. Some well-intentioned kind souls would perhaps argue that rather than losing my grandmother in November, we actually lost my grandmother three and a half years ago when her dementia came to light in the acutest sense. Others, prior to gran’s demise, might argue that we lost her when (I have to add – with extreme guilt at being inadequate to care for her needs) we succumbed to “give up” gran to the care system – although we ‘stubbornly’ hung in there to be part of her life. It was for this reason rather than any other that we were determined after her death that, as a family, we would encourage our family and friends to donate to charity rather than have funeral flowers. I know my family are no means unique in this respect but I hadn’t quite understood the motivation behind such public and visible acts of philanthropy, especially as you are in a sense asking others to give up their own free choice of which charity to support. Imposing a philanthropic preference on others is something I had previously felt uncomfortable with and had shied away from. Mindful of this, and in our great need and desire to help other families who may be faced with the same heartache as we had suffered over the last few years, we chose a charity whose mission we best felt would support families in their time of crisis, Dementia UK.

I deeply regret not having the courage to contact charities such as Dementia UK at the beginning of our journey with grandma, and hope that our family’s collective philanthropic effort will help another family through those dark days.

Having always previously believed that my own philanthropic tendencies, particularly with regard to giving of time (i.e. volunteering), were solely based and shaped by my own experiences of life and the world around me, I no longer believe this to be the case. As a personal response to my grandmother’s death I withdrew into my favourite hobby of family history. I started to revisit my grandmother’s own personal and family history and to my amazement I found my philanthropic roots had been staring me in the face! Not only had my own parents done youth volunteering in their formative years, undertaking activities such as helping to renovate a local church shrine, running a youth club and leading a local cub group, but my own grandmother’s life had been dedicated to philanthropic activities from a very young age and had continued until quite recently. She started her lifelong commitment to volunteering in the Girls Brigade and subsequently used the first aid and organisational skills gained from her time at the Girls Brigade in her role as a community volunteer during the Second World War. Her passion and dedication to volunteering continued and was sustained into married life – she and my grandfather regularly undertook political volunteering. As a mother, she volunteered with the church, the local cubs and scouts, and helped out with school sports activities. Her tea and cake making skills were infamous at my uncle’s school cricket events, as were her ‘light’ lunches for the home team! As a grandmother, and in later life, her volunteering included helping to organise and run several community groups. Two such groups were the local ASBAH (now called SHINE) and Arthritis Care group, where her volunteer roles included acting as secretary, treasurer and chairperson.

Reflecting on my grandmother’s lifelong volunteering, I revisited the academic research I had previously explored on volunteering over the life course by Kent Centre for Philanthropy’s Dr Eddy Hogg. Using Eddy’s typology, my grandmother’s volunteering can be classed as ‘constant’. Her lifelong volunteering had changed in nature and in type but had been a constant in, and throughout her life. She started on the ‘frontline’ and over her life course had used her life experiences to move into more ‘managerial’ and organisational roles. Interestingly, her commitment to volunteering did not diminish post-retirement. In fact, after the death of my grandfather the number of hours she devoted in her 70s and 80s increased – until the onset of ill health. Even then her philanthropic activities did not diminish but became more strategic and took the form of giving of money instead of time.

So, what impact did the lifelong philanthropic activities of my grandmother have on me? I have learned that the socialisation I received from my family meant that giving time and money was a norm, something that people like me did. This simple fact, which research also shows is a prime driver of philanthropic behaviour – had been staring me in the face but I hadn’t seen it. My grandmother was a philanthropist – despite being an ordinary woman from a working class background who was first and foremost a mother and a homemaker. Like many in her generation and class she gave her time and money for the betterment of her community, those she perceived to be less well off and others in need of support.

For me, charity and philanthropy really did begin at home!

Giving quietly or ostentatiously?: The case of the Teddy Bear Toss

This is a guest post from my new colleague, Dr Eddy Hogg

Research published by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) last week showed that Britain is the sixth most generous country in the world, in terms of people’s propensity to help strangers, donate money and to volunteer their time.  Our giving is comparable with other Western democracies – the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and the Netherlands all join the UK in the top 10 most generous nations.  And we are generous – in the last few weeks we have seen Children in Need raise a record £31m on-the-night total, while the DEC appeal for the Philippines has already raised £69m. 

A video I saw this week highlighted, though, how different the character of our giving is to other generous nations.  If you haven’t already seen it, the goal celebration after the first goal of Canadian ice hockey’s 19th annual Teddy Bear Ross Game between Calgary Hitmen and Medicine Hat Tigers will take your breath away.  Words can’t describe it, so have a watch:

You’d have to have a better imagination than me to picture Anfield being covered in teddies after Daniel Sturridge opens the scoring for Liverpool or the Lords outfield being turned multi-coloured with toys as Alastair Cook scores the first century of the English summer.  In England, we’re more likely to put money into a collection bucket outside the ground, an understated act of generosity that, unlike the Teddy Bear Toss, may go unnoticed even to those you are with.

Can Britain learn from ostentatious displays of giving?  The Calgary match saw over 25,000 teddies donated by a crowd of around 6,000.  That’s about as mass participation as you can get.  Would more overt displays of giving make more people give, as they see their peers doing so in vast numbers?   Or would it make the giving of gifts less voluntary, taking away a defining characteristic of donating to charity?  In our research, we’ve found that nearly all major donors give some of their gifts anonymously and are also happy to be have their named attached to other gifts. The decision to go public or not depends on what’s appropriate in a given situation, rather than from an overriding desire to be covert or overt.  Events like Children in Need encourage groups of people to come together in schools, workplaces and other communities to give together while having a fun.  These aren’t all that different to the Teddy Bear Toss, maybe a little more understated but coming from the same tradition of shared giving.  Perhaps all donors, wherever they are in the world, then, make decisions about when to give publicly with others and when to give quietly on their own.

Why do people avoid fundraisers?

This time of year in a university is pretty full-on. We finished teaching last week, and need to tackle the mountain of assignments to be marked before the larger mountain of exam scripts appears.

So it was with a spring in my step that I escaped campus last week to attend a stimulating conference on ‘Generosity and Well Being’ organised by two of the brightest minds and nicest people in our field: Prof Kim Scharf of Warwick University and Prof Sarah Smith of Bristol University. Kim and Sarah convened a fascinating group of people from different disciplines (economics, psychology, sociology and social policy) from across the UK as well as from the Netherlands, the US and Canada.

On the day I gave my paper (exploring enjoyment as a driver of giving) the programme was dominated by psychologists. This was undoubtedly some psychic balancing of my joy at having a ‘thinking day’ instead of a ‘marking day’, because I sometimes struggle to know what to make of psychological research into charitable giving. As a fundraiser, it doesn’t help much to know that certain personality types are more or less likely to give – unless there’s a database of ‘introverts’ and ‘extroverts’ with their names and addresses, how do we apply that knowledge? I also have issues with many laboratory experiments, which never seem capable of replicating the real world where subjects have opinions about real causes and charitable organisations, and bring with them their own history of donative behaviour. Perhaps they didn’t give in the lab setting because they already make a regular gift to that cause area, or hold a settled view on that particular organisation?

However, the psychologists attending the Warwick conference proved me wrong, not least Jen Shang’s work on how social information can increase donation size . So when a fellow attendee emailed me a link to a paper presenting psychological research on Avoiding the Ask, I read it with far more gusto than normal, and am glad I did. The paper begins:

“If people get joy from giving, then why might they avoid fundraisers?”

Good question! The authors (James Andreoni, Justin M Rao and Hannah Trachtman) conclude that avoidance (which is so easily interpreted as just plain mean) is in fact often a self-regulation mechanism for those who know that being asked will trigger an empathetic response they feel they can’t afford.

The paper presents findings of a natural field experiment, where Salvation Army fundraisers were positioned by store doors and either made no contact with passerby or made a simple polite request for a donation. The results are astonishing:

“adding the simple verbal request of ‘please give’ is about as effective as adding an additional silent fundraiser”.

These are useful findings for fundraisers. Don’t have enough people to shake your tins? Then train those you do have to interact nicely with potential donors and watch the coins start dropping. And tell your collectors not to  take it personally when people swerve to avoid the ask – they’re just scared of their better selves, and those that don’t swerve will give more. Thanks psychologists!

The Secrets of Fundraising Success

Happy New Year!

2013 is going to be a good year for lots of reasons. But the one I’m thinking about today is that I’ll soon be starting a new project on the art of fundraising, kindly funded by the Leverhulme Trust,

The main reason that people give money to charity is because someone asks them to – but despite an increasing body of research into donors, we know next to nothing about those who do the asking. My 3-year study will examine the finest  volunteer and paid staff fundraisers in the country to try and work out what it is they do and say that makes this magic transaction happen.There’s an article about my study here on the ESRC website if you want to know more.

I don’t get going on this study until May, but couldn’t resist an invitation from the good people at Civil Society, who publish Fundraising magazine, to write this column about the ‘secret ingredients’ to fundraising success. The article is published today and contains not just the results of a survey of fundraising directors but  a joke too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

More Million Pound Donors but fall in total value of their donations

I’ll blog properly soon about the latest Million Pound Donors Report, released today. But for now here’s the press release:

The annual Coutts Million Pound Donor Report, released on 10 December and produced in association with the Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice (CPHSJ) at the University of Kent, has found a record total of 232 separate ‘million pound or more’ philanthropic donations made by individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK during 20010/11.

This is the largest total identified by the report in any one year since the study began in 2008, up by 58 donations compared to last year. There has also been a big increase in the number of million pound donors, with 130 different donors identified, up from 73 the previous year (this includes individuals, charitable trusts, foundations and corporations, some of whom made more than one donation worth £1 million or more).

The total value of these donations was £1.241 billion. This is lower than the total value recorded in previous years, down from £1.312 billion in last year’s report, which covered donations made in 2009/10.

More than half of the million pound donations made in 2010/11 were donated by 93 individual donors, with a total value of £763 million. Living individuals therefore continue to be the most significant source of the largest donations.

Higher Education, Arts and Culture and International Development remain the most popular destinations for the largest gifts amongst both individual and institutional donors. But support for environmental causes increased in 2010/11, and all types of charities attract some support from million pound donors.

This annual report, which is now in its fifth year of publication, tracks size, scale and recipients of donations worth £1m or more from individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK and is illustrated with a number of case studies of donors and recipients, who discuss their experience.

The Coutts report also finds that despite the fall in the overall value of ‘million pound donations’, the amount that went directly to charities, rather than being ‘banked’ in foundations, increased from £631m to £747m, indicating a shift towards getting funds out onto the ‘front line’ to charities, many of which are struggling to raise funds from other sources.

One hundred and ninety-one organisations received million pound donations in 2010/11. This is far higher than the 154 recipients identified in 2009/10. The vast majority (166) received only one gift of this size. Organisations that received multiple million pound donations tended to be the oldest universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge) or national arts and cultural institutions.

As in every year that the report has been published, the most frequent size of donation is worth exactly £1m, indicating that ‘giving a million’ has both economic and psychological significance for donors, and is the size of gift that establishes a donor amongst the ‘top rank’ of UK philanthropists.

Dr Beth Breeze, of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research and author of the report, said: ‘At a time when ordinary donors are finding it tough to maintain their support for charities, it is heartening to see those with a greater capacity to give are stepping up to the challenge in increased numbers. A seven-figure donation is obviously a major commitment, and it is not surprising that people start by making a gift of £1 million, rather than – say- £10 million. But experience shows that if donors feel their money is well spent, and that their contribution is appreciated and makes a tangible difference to the causes they care about, then they will continue to give at this level, and quite possibly increase their contributions. You very rarely meet an ex-philanthropist!

 ‘Before we started this annual study of million pound donations, there was no clear understanding of the scale, role and significance of the largest philanthropic acts in the UK. That was an important gap in our knowledge that needed filling, because we need a proper understanding of current levels of support in order to make robust plans for developing this much-needed source of income in the future. The data and analysis provided by the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent is helping charities, fundraisers and policymakers to build a decent knowledge base about major giving and gain a better understanding of the main trends in contemporary UK philanthropy, which should help the UK to develop a stronger culture of philanthropy.’

Maya Prabhu, Executive Director, Philanthropy Services at Coutts, said: ‘It’s extremely encouraging for the development of UK philanthropy to note that this is the highest number of donors and donations since we began compiling this report in 2008. Large scale philanthropy is on the increase and the more donors there are and the more they communicate about the benefits their philanthropy brings to society and what it means to them personally, the more it will grow and strengthen a new generation of philanthropists. 

‘Despite the scepticism suggesting that many large scale donors are simply looking to make the most of ‘tax breaks’ on offer, our experience, as backed up by this report, is that the reality is very different. Today, the majority of the philanthropists we meet are self-made individuals, many of whom have witnessed first hand the highs and lows of building a business, and on occasion, the possibility of losing everything. It’s a strong desire to make a contribution to the world that has afforded them so many opportunities, whilst also enriching their own lives, their families and the lives of others that we see as the main driver for their philanthropy.’ 

The Coutts Million Pound Donor Report has been published annually since 2008, all five reports are freely available online here.

If anyone would like a hard copy of the 2012 report, please email me at b.breeze(at)

Rich ghettos deplete generosity

Fascinating new research from the US finds that living in rich-only enclaves rather than in mixed income communities is related to lower levels of philanthropy.

The study was conducted by specialist US newspaper The Chronicle of Philanthropy (how I wish we had a UK equivalent!), which cross-checked giving patterns with zip codes (postcodes). The article about the study is here, and this is the finding that jumped out at me:

Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities. When people making more than $200,000 a year account for more than 40 percent of the taxpayers in a ZIP code, the wealthy residents give an average of 2.8 percent of discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for all itemizers earning $200,000 or more.

It looks like gated communities don’t just keep out the riff raff – they close the gates on generosity too.

Views from the receiving end of charity

After a media launch with a comment piece in the Guardian last week, we spent today mailing out copies of our new report User Views on Fundraising to everyone we could think of who might like a copy.

It’s tricky doing such mail outs, trying to balance the potential of clogging up someone’s doormat with unwanted mail versus leaving someone else’s bookshelf bereft of a report they’d find interesting. If we got it wrong and you’d like a hard copy then please just drop me a line at b.breeze(at)

The report presents and discusses the findings of 5 focus groups held around the UK with young people living in homeless hostels. In the light of suggestions that some fundraising materials amount to ‘poverty porn’, using exploitative pictures of beneficiaries to secure donations, we wanted to find out how those depicted feel about the images used in fundraising campaigns.

We found that this group of charitable beneficiaries were largely supportive of whatever methods raise the most money, but they also expressed a preference for fundraising imagery that elicits empathy and ‘tells stories’ about how people find themselves in need of charitable assistance, rather than pictures that provoke pity and depict them at their lowest ebb.

Please do take a look at the Guardian article which summarises the findings, and at the full report itself. And do let us know what you think.


Are donors really giving all they can?

The headline in yesterday’s Third Sector news made depressing news: ‘Almost half of donors are giving all they can, says Institute of Fundraising survey’. Really? Do monthly gifts of £11 (the median monthly donation reported in UK Giving 2011) really represent around half the nation at full altruistic stretch? Is it true that so many of us can afford 37p a day and not a penny more, to support all the good work being done by charities up and down the country and around the world? Surely not. Fortunately, things are unlikely to be as clear cut as the headline suggests.

For a start – and it’s not the IoF’s fault as they presumably didn’t write the headline – it should have read: ‘Almost half of donors claim that they are giving all they can’. There is a big difference, because this is attitudinal rather than behavioural research, based on what people say about what they do, don’t do, might do, won’t do – rather than research into reportable actions and tangible behaviours. Attitudinal research is notoriously inaccurate as there is a great gulf between thinking and doing.

As an interesting anti-market research argument notes: it’s widely accepted that what people say they’ll do is often very different from what they actually do. Observational research – watching what consumers do and analysing their behaviour – yields more useful data. In this case, donors might think they have nothing to spare, but the year-on-year increase in funds raised by many charities tells a different story. When faced with a persuasive ask, made  by a credible and trustworthy organisation, it turns out people can dig a little deeper.

Just look at the money that will come flooding in this weekend to Sport Relief – times are still tough post-recession, and the government’s cuts are starting to hurt, but the fundraising genius’ at Sport Relief will undoubtedly generate yet another impressive sum.


Best Books on Corporate Philanthropy

I love being asked to recommend books, in fact one of the favourite parts of my job is writing book reviews and brief notices of new books and reports on the Philanthropy UK website.

The last time someone asked me to recommend a book came via Twitter, and as it’s not really possible to say much in 140 characters, I thought I’d write a blog about it instead.

The very personable and knowledgable Caroline Fiennes asked a few fellow tweeters ‘What’s the best thing you’ve ever read about corporate philanthropy?’. My answer is below – it’s the reading list for a lecture on corporate philanthropy that I’ll be giving next month, as part of a new course on ‘Fundraising and Philanthropy’ within a new Masters degree in Civil Society Studies at the University of Kent. If I had to pick a top 3, I’d go for Burlingame & Young, Sargeant and Jay and either Friedman for provocation or Emerson Andrews for a more thoughtful approach.

I’d be delighted to hear if anyone else agrees, disagrees, or has other books to suggest.


Best books on Corporate Philanthropy

Dwight Burlingame and Dennis Young (1996) Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Thomas W. Dunfee (2011) The Unfulfilled Promise of Corporate Philanthropy in Illingworth, P., Pogge, T. and Wenar, L. (eds) Giving Well: The ethics of philanthropy. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Frank Emerson Andrews (1992) Corporate Giving. Rutgers, NJ: Transaction publishers

Milton Friedman ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its profits’ in New York Times magazine

Kym Madden and Wendy Scaife (2008) Corporate Philanthropy: Who gives and why?’ in Sargeant, A. and Wymer, W. (eds) The Routledge Companion to Nonprofit Marketing. London: Routledge

Valerie Morton (2002) Corporate Fundraising (3rd edition). London: Directory of Social Change

Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay (2010) Fundraising Management: Analysis, planning and practice. London: Routledge (chapter 11 Corporate Fundraising)

What’s the point of the Million Pound Donors Report?

There’s only one question on people’s lips when we launch each new edition of the annual ‘Coutts Million Pound Donors Report’: “Who are they?” Instead of a 30 page document full of statistics and stories about mega-giving, we’d get a much better reception if we just distributed a piece of A4 listing names and addresses. But this is research, not prospect research – and there’s a significant difference between the two, that I have written about elsewhere. The purpose of the Million Pound Donors Reports is to shine a light on the scale, scope and importance of giving at this level and to lift the lid on the experience of both making and receiving 7 (or more)-figure gifts.

The 2011 report is the fourth edition, in which yet again we describe and discuss all that we have been able to discover about charitable donations worth £1 million or more, that were made by UK donors or given to UK charities in the preceding financial year. We always begin the report by admitting upfront that we’re sure to have missed some of these biggest donations and that our data is likely to under-estimate the true value of this largest level of philanthropy. No one has a duty to report their involvement in a million pound charitable transaction, and they can be tricky to track down if they’re made anonymously, or have not appeared in an identifiable form on the public record. Nor does our report include very big donations that fall below the lower threshold of £1 million, so we cannot claim to capture all instances of significant giving, as gifts of £10,000 – £999,999 are still of great importance to the causes they benefit. But we do maintain that ‘million pound donations’ remain a useful unit of analysis because – to borrow the phrase of a donor mentioned in the 2011 report – giving a “one-er” is economically, culturally and psychologically significant to all concerned. It is the size of gift that establishes a donor amongst the ‘top rank’ of UK philanthropists.

The most recent report, launched in December 2011, covers gifts made in 2009/10 and finds that this top rank is somewhat depleted. There were decreases in both the number of separate occasions on which million pound donations were made (we found 174, compared to 201 the previous year) and in the cumulative value of these donations, which were worth £1.312 billion, compared to £1.548 billion for the preceding twelve month period. In other respects the data shows remarkable stability – Higher Education continues to be the favoured cause, almost half (44%) are worth under £2m, just 10% are worth £10m or more, and a larger fraction (52%) is ‘banked’ into charitable trusts or foundations for distribution at a later date, rather than given directly to front-line or operational charities for spending in the nearer future.

But – as anticipated – most media coverage of the report was dominated by the change (for which, read: decline) in the headline figures, despite our efforts to emphasise that it’s not sensible to read too much into the year-on-year trends in a dataset of this size. If you don’t believe us, then we quote data guru Karl Wilding, Head of Research at NCVO who says:

“They say that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and it’s also true that one data point does not make a trend. The ups and downs in the number and value of million pound donations looks to me like the sort of natural undulation you would expect to find in this sort of dataset.”

So, what is the big story in the 2011 report, if it doesn’t reveal new names for fundraisers to pursue, nor offer a tale of doom and decline? I believe that the comparison with major giving in the US is the most interesting angle to emerge. The Million Dollar Donor List (now freely available on a swanky website charts gifts of $1m+ by calendar year, and finds a drop from $12.87 billion in 2008, to $4.97 billion in 2009 and $4.44 in 2010. That drop of more than a half far outstrips the UK’s dip of 15% – which is surely good news for a country that constantly compares itself unfavourably to the philanthropy of our Transatlantic cousins?

The whole 2011 report is available here on the University of Kent website  – please take a look, let me know what you think, and feel free to give feedback so we can improve the 2012 edition.

Some of my best friends are prospect researchers, but…

I’m not a fan of confrontation but I recently felt the need to pick a fight with those people who knock fundraising research and say things like “why not just give all the money to charity instead of spending it on researching fundraising?” So I emailed Stephen Cook, editor of Third Sector magazine, and asked if I could write an article about this. He kindly said yes, and I felt much better once I’d got it off my chest. Time trundled on and now here we are a few weeks later and today my comment piece was published here.

I must admit to being a bit worried about the reaction because I’d trotted out a few cliches about academics (self-indulgent, long-winded, inscrutable) and I’d suggested there’s a difference between ‘prospect research’ and ‘proper research’. The crux of my argument is in this para:

Research into fundraising will always leave fundraisers feeling dissatisfied because, however much their heads are interested in the bigger picture, what their heart really desires is the names and addresses of sure-fire donors. It’s even worse in face-to-face encounters. Me: “I research philanthropy.” Other: “Oh good, do you know anyone who’ll give me some money for this wonderful project?” Me: “No, but we could talk about how life experiences affect giving patterns.” Other: “???”

It’s a good job I’m not a fan of confrontation because it turns out I’m pretty hopeless at picking fights. No one is offended, plenty seem to agree and lots of people have emailed and tweeted approving comments. Best of all, my invitation to give a talk at the Prospect Researchers conference in London next month has not been rescinded (yet).

Media friendly or media tart?

Now I’ve been back from maternity leave for a few weeks, it’s time to get into the swing of one of the best bits of my job – media work. I always prefer writing 800 words of lively prose for a general educated audience over writing a 5,000 word academic paper for a Journal, which will be read by a handful of people (at least half of whom know in advance they don’t agree with me) – even if the latter will do far more to advance my career.

Not being shy of media coverage myself, I read with some trepidation a good blog post taking issue with academics who try to get their name all over the press, whether or not they know what they’re talking about or have the data to back up their positions.

Which makes me all the more hesitant to admit that I’m pleased to have a piece on today’s Guardian website about my recent research into how donors choose charities. I MUST try to get these findings published in a journal soon. But for today I shall enjoy what I believe is technically known as ‘impact’, otherwise known as ‘something to show your family to prove you do have a proper job’.

Fundraising is about raising money not changing behaviour

Nice to see New Philanthropy Capital’s blog about our research on How Donors Choose Charities, which argues that charitable giving is more often ‘taste based’ than ‘needs based’.

Jane Thomas, the author of the NPC blog post, raises an interesting question about what that finding means for fundraisers. She asks: “Does it mean that fundraisers should be putting more focus on tapping into donors’ personal preferences in their fundraising material, rather than pushing the message on ‘needs’? It ultimately raises the question of whether fundraisers should be looking to change behaviour, (ie, by getting donors to think more about need), or should be catering for existing behaviour (ie, focusing on donor’s passions and personal interests).”

My answer to her question is that it means the latter because the job of the fundraiser is to raise as much money as possible for their cause. Bringing about behavioural change amongst donors – and indeed the wider public – is important, but cannot be the responsibility of those charged with raising the funds to keep the charity going. When I worked as a fundraiser my targets were all financial, not behavioural. I don’t think the charity chief exec would have been overly impressed if I’d said, “sorry not to have raised enough money to cover our outgoings, but you’ll be glad to hear our supporters are thinking much more clearly about need”.

The next research project I’m working on is looking at another dimension of this problem. We’ve been running focus groups with charity users to ask their opinion on whether fundraising literature ought to use the most accurate and authentic images of beneficiaries, or ought to use the images most likely to raise the largest sums of money. On the whole, charity users seem to take a pragmatic approach. A typical comment being: “The money’s the main thing… If the organisations haven’t got their money in the first place to help you then the whole system breaks down… Just get the money, by hook or by crook”.

We’ll be presenting the interim findings of this research at the NCVO/VSSN conference, which takes place on the 6th & 7th September in Leeds. Further info about the conference is online here.

3 research projects, 2 deadlines and 1 baby

Summers are meant to be quiet times in universities but the pace of my work seems to have increased these past weeks. Two big reports are occupying my waking hours: Firstly, the 2010 edition of the Coutts Million Pound Donor report should be our best yet, not least because we have got more – and more substantial – case studies of those who give and receive donations worth £1m or more. Secondly, I’m working on a a study of university fundraising across all 27 members of the European Union. The deadline is the end of October and as my second baby is due in November, that deadline is pretty immovable!

I’m also still busy disseminating the findings from a recently-completed project on ‘How Donors Choose Charities’. The report is available online here and I wrote the briefest of summaries of the findings in a recent edition of Third Sector magazine – trying to condense over a year’s worth of research into a 300 word article is no mean feat.

I’ll be presenting the research in person on the 7th October at the Institute of Fundraising South East conference, which is being held at the Burford Bridge Hotel near Dorking. Further info and bookings can be made by emailing

How Donors Choose Charities

Last Friday I launched the final report from the first project I’ve been undertaking within the new ESRC Centre for Giving and Philanthropy, How Donors Choose Charities.

Having interviewed 60 committed donors about how they make their giving decisions, I found that  most people tend to support organisations that promote their own preferences, help people they feel some affinity with and support causes that relate to their own life experiences.  These non-needs-based drivers exist despite widespread beliefs that charities exist primarily to help the needy,

Other key findings include:

  • Donors find it difficult to make choices between the vast number of potential beneficiaries; the overwhelming amount of choice makes it impossible to rationally assess all possible alternative destinations for donations
  • Donors create their own classifications and ‘mental maps’ to try and cope with the complexity of the charity sector – for example making binary distinctions between ‘animal’ and ‘people’ charities, or automatically excluding certain types of causes
  • Donors’ personal backgrounds are a key criteria behind gifts; people draw on their personal and professional experiences and use their ‘philanthropic autobiographies’ to shape their giving decisions
  • Donors often base their judgements on how efficiently charities spend their money by evaluating the quantity and quality of direct mail appeals, rather than by accessing information such as annual reports and accounts
  • Donors are motivated by a desire to ‘personally make a difference’ and are keen to avoid their donations becoming a substitute for government spending

Given the voluntary nature of charitable activity, it’s not so surprising that giving is more accurately characterised as ‘taste-based’ rather than ‘needs-based’. The freedom to support things that people care most deeply about is what differentiates charitable giving from paying tax. Donors value the control they have over their charitable giving decisions, and expect to distribute their money according to their judgements about what is important and worthwhile.

But the findings do raise a timely question about the extent to which governments can realistically expect donations to replace public spending cuts on charitable activity, as people have far higher hopes for their donations than simply plugging gaps in government spending.

I hope this report is useful to charities and their fundraising staff, and would be happy to hear what you think.

Changing places

Having worked as a fundraiser, and now as a philanthropy researcher, I’ve done a fair bit of asking, and an awful lot of thinking about asking. But as I’m not wealthy myself, I’m never on the receiving end of a personal, direct ask. So it’s been fascinating to find myself in the shoes of the asked not just once but twice in recent weeks. And both experiences gave me tiny insights into what it must be like to be courted by causes wanting your cash, and how easy it is to get the asking wrong.

The first experience was a result of mistaken identity. I was visiting a major charity to present some research and my host – a senior member of the fundraising team – very kindly offered to give a me a tour of the building. Presumably this person would usually be giving tours to well-heeled potential donors or senior decision-makers from charitable foundations, so it’s not surprising that her colleagues assumed I had access to big bucks (though my shabby shoes ought to have given me away as a decidedly poorly-heeled academic). Towards the end of the tour I spotted something on the wall that I wanted to ask about, yet suddenly found myself being lectured, at length, about an aspect of their work that she thought I wanted to know about. Time stood still as the long-winded explanation went on and on, and  I began to appreciate visiting dignitaries’ ability to feign interest in things they never expressed any desire to know. Suddenly our time was up and I was bustled out of the room, slightly annoyed and no wiser about my unasked question. As I am not a potential mega-donor no harm was done, but I wonder how often we talk at, rather than to, potential donors, and make unwarranted assumptions about what will inspire them.

The second experience concerned an acquaintance who phoned out of the blue and asked me to join a committee to help a cause that she cares passionately about. As it happens I don’t share her interest in this cause, but have often shared what knowledge I have about charities and fundraising with people I know who are committed to things that don’t rock my boat. But the speed at which this ask came and the lack of groundwork in warming me up for an ask – albeit for a contribution of time and knowledge rather than money – was another case study in how not to inspire and motivate a potential donor. What’s worse, I felt terrible for saying no as I felt judged for my lack of interest in the cause.

Being a student of philanthropy is the best job in the world. It’s a subject I find endlessly fascinating and hopefully the findings will do some good at some point. But I’ve always been aware that my life experience is so very far removed from those I try to study. Thanks to an over-enthusiastic staffer and a clumsy request for help, I’ve had a tiny taste of what it must be like to be have something that other people want, and a tiny insight into why the answer might be no.

The real million pound question

The philanthropy research centre where I work publishes an annual report on ‘Million Pound Donors’ which collates and analyses data on charitable gifts worth £1m or more. Media coverage (for example in the FT and the Times) tends to focus on how many donors give at this level, and whether the value of these mega-gifts is going up or down. But when I discuss the findings with wealthy donors, it’s not the question of quantities that most interests them. The finding that catches their eye is the one that counts how many organisations are on the receiving end of gifts of this size – they are all amazed to learn how few charities have donors giving at this level.

In both the years that this study has taken place, less than 160 charities were found to be on the receiving end of donations of this size, and the vast majority of these ‘million pound recipients’ received only one 7-figure donation. Of the 159 recipients in 2006/07, 141 only got the one; of the 153 in 2007/08, 133 only got the one. Therefore in each year, only around 20 organisations got more than one donation worth £1m or more.

It may seem unrealistic, even greedy, to expect to have more than one supporter who is willing and able to give at this level. But a large number of charities have fundraising targets that require them to raise many millions of pounds each year. According to the Charity Market Monitor 2009, 8 UK charities raised £100m or more, a further 51 raised more than £50m and a total of 116 charities raised more than £10m. As the vast majority of these organisations have either one or no million pound donors, then these impressive targets are being hit as a result of the collective value of a huge number of smaller sums.

A headline in a recent edition of  Civil Society media attests to this fact, as it carries news that the Make-A-Wish Foundation – which raised £4m last year – has received its largest-ever single donation of £702,158. This big donation is great news, yet the ability of charities to raise multi-million pound sums, year on year, in the absence of a major benefactor is surely one of the great, untold stories in UK fundraising. Many more examples abound. I recently met with fundraisers from two well-known charities – both amongst the 50 most popular fundraising charities – neither of which had had a donor giving £1m or more for many years.

Millionaire donors are genuinely – and quite rightly- shocked to learn that they are probably the only person giving at that level to their favourite cause. Knowing for sure they are the charity’s only 7-figure donor is empowering as it gives them permission to approach their friends, who they now know are not concealing a similarly-large donation through modesty. Being honest about the rarity of these gifts is also a powerful tool for retaining support as – assuming the million pound donor is pleased with how their money has been spent-  they are more likely to renew once they appreciate the unique significance of their gift.

Yet fundraisers appear reluctant to come clean about the size of their charity’s million pound supporter club. Perhaps they think it’s a sign of weakness to have attracted so few, or implies they cannot cope with donations of this size?

But the gasps of genuine surprise from millionaire donors tells a different story. They’ve been given a false impression that ‘people like them’ keep charities going, and are shocked that the burden of funding good causes is not in fact falling on the wealthiest shoulders. It’s time for fundraisers to swallow their pride and admit that major donors are rarer than four leaf clovers. It could help these exceptional donors to become a little less of an exception.

A new boost for the study of charity and giving in the UK

Hard to believe it is now July. The aspiration to submit my PhD thesis (on ‘More than Money: the social meaning of philanthropy in contemporary UK society’) by 31st July is looking increasingly daunting. So – much as I love being part of the online community discussing philanthropy and charitable giving – I’m going to have to cut out blogging and cut down on tweeting until the ‘big one’ is done.

But I am pleased to use this last (for now) post to share news of a very exciting development in the world of understanding charity and giving. Next March the first edition of a new UK-based academic journal, Voluntary Sector Review, will be published and the the call for papers is now open.

The new journal is an initiative from the friendliest group of academics that I know: the Voluntary Sector Studies Network. When I made my first tentative steps from fundraiser to researcher, the VSSN was a great source of information, contacts and encouragement and the value of membership continues to increase as I settle into my new career.

The academic study of charity and giving in the UK has enjoyed a lot of boosts recently – the launch of two research centres devoted to the Third Sector and to Giving and Philanthropy, the associated job opportunities for researchers wanting to specialise in these fields and a greater number of events and online forums for the exchange and dissemination of ideas (foremost amongst which is also a VSSN initiative – the annual conference, which is being held at the University of Warwick on 7-8 September 2009).

But an academic community needs more than research centres, job openings and meetings – it needs somewhere to publish peer-reviewed work. I really hope there’s a big response to the call for papers and I can’t wait to read the first edition next Spring.

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.

Sugar-coated or cynical? More on books about philanthropy

Something odd happened after my last blog about my ‘best books’ on philanthropy. An American academic, whose work I admire, criticised my taste for being too sugar-coated. As someone who tends to fly home from philanthropy gatherings in the US feeling like a hard-nosed, cynical European amidst a sea of positive, high 5-ing Yanks, I rather enjoyed the compliment.

But to dispel the saccharine-taste left by my choices, I should point out this fuller Reading List that I maintain for Philanthropy UK, and I’d like to share the fave philanthropy-related books sent in by others in reply to my last blog:

1. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, by Samantha King

2. Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo

3. The Life You can Save, by Peter Singer

4. The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing ‘Nonprofit Organisations’ to Create the Future of Our World, by Hildy Gottlieb

5. Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, by Janet Poppendieck

6. What’s Love Got To Do With It? A Critical Look at American Charity, by David Wagner.

My former colleague at Kent University, Sarah Moore, wrote a similar book to King’s called: ‘Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion & Public Awareness’, which makes an interesting argument about the efficacy of symbolic acts such as ribbon wearing. I must admit the Singer and Moyo books are in my ‘to read’ pile and I wasn’t aware of Gottlieb and Poppendieck, but they’re now on my ‘to buy’ list.

But I must disagree about the Wagner book. It’s been a number of years since I read it but just a glimpse of the spine on my bookshelf brings back vivid recollections of the negativity contained within. The clue, of course, is in the title: What’s love got to do with it? is unlikely to be answered with a resounding “Lots!” and in the cover image, which is a sea of peanuts (subtle, huh?). Wagner is on a mission to reveal the selfish, guilt-ridden instincts that lie behind apparently innocent, compassionate acts and to prove that philanthropy is a big cover-up for the harshness of America’s free-market capitalism.

I’m a sociologist rather than a psychologist and I don’t pretend to know why people do what they do, but it seems as implausible to argue that philanthropy is entirely cynical and selfish as it is to argue that philanthropy is entirely selfless.

I think the ‘best books’ I chose in my last blog tread the line between these two extremes, acknowledging that one of the most distinctive features of philanthropy is its ability to meet the needs of both donors and recipients. Reductionist approaches that see philanthropy in black in white, the realm of only goodies or baddies, are misleading and harmful.

Ian Wilhelm of the Chronicle of Philanthropy also joined the debate about ‘best books’ and I fully concur with one of his choices – The Foundation: A Great American Secret by Joel Fleishman, which includes a great riposte to the cynics’ position:

“Large-scale charitable giving is not primarily the province of the robber barons racked by personal guilt over their depradations, no matter what amateur psychologists or historians with an anti-capitalist bent might assume”.

Hear hear, from both sides of the Atlantic.

Best Books on Philanthropy

I like being asked my opinion and I like books about philanthropy, so my day was well and truly made when the marvellous Martin Brooks of New Philanthropy Capital asked me to recommend some good books about philanthropy.

I like being asked this question so much that I actually have an online reading list which contains more information than even the pointiest headed of philanthropy wonks could possibly want. So here’s the diluted version of my top 3 essential reads about philanthropy, in ascending order:

3. Peter Frumkin (2006) ‘Strategic Giving: the art and science of philanthropy’. Frumkin sets out the functions of philanthropy and how to go about doing it well. Full review here (though you need to scroll down to the 5th book).

2. Robert Payton & Michael Moody (2008) ‘Understanding Philanthropy: It’s meaning and mission’. This book makes a strong argument that philanthropy is an important and interesting subject that deserves greater attention. Full review here

1. Matthew Bishop & Michael Green (2008) ‘Philanthropcapitalism‘. Despite the misleading title, this book is about so much more than an argument for a certain type of modern philanthropy that the authors have labelled ‘philanthrocapitalism’, it is an excellent review of the whole landscape. If you only read one book, this is the one to go for. Full review here and more on their own website

I reckon anyone reading these 3 books will gain a good understanding of the history and contemporary nature of philanthropy around the world, though if you want to dig deeper beyond UK/US experiences, I’d also suggest Warren Ilchman’s edited volume on ‘Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions’ (1998).

If you decide to take up these suggestions I’d love to know what you think of them, and if you disagree with my picks then do please suggest some alternatives

How charities can get support from family businesses

Yesterday I blogged about the key conclusions of  ‘Natural Philanthropists’, the new report I’ve written on family business philanthropy. But as someone who started out as a fundraiser, I’m most excited about sharing the section of the report that contains ‘lessons for charities’ seeking support from this sector. Here’s a summary of what we found, for more details do have a look at the full report

1. Family business owners may be more ‘naturally philanthropic’ than non-family owners, but they are busy people, so do check the criteria to avoid a wasted application and ensure your proposition doesn’t make unreasonable expectations on their time. 

2. Family businesses respond positively to impressive individuals, they buy into the charity leadership as much as the charity’s mission.

3. Family businesses look for well-run charities that can prove their impact. The ‘ask’ needs to go beyond telling good stories to include evidence that the funds make a difference.

4. Do your research – family business owners have more discretion over philanthropic spending than non-family business, so look for family connections that enhance your appeal. 

5. Family businesses often support local sports teams, which combine doing good in the local community with publicity, for example by including company logos on kits; charities should think about ways they can offer similar promotional benefits.

6. Family businesses are predominantly small, and they have a tendency to work with similarly sized charities, preferably those that focus on the community in which the business is located. 

7. However, larger family businesses with increasingly globalised business arrangements may contribute to more strategic philanthropic approaches that disburse funds beyond the local community, as such businesses may feel less ‘rooted’ in their local neighbourhood and may feel less of an urge to ‘give something back’ to their community. 

8. Much family business decision making is informal – it happens around the kitchen table rather than at board meetings – so personal relationships with significant family members matter more than formal presentations to senior executives.

And finally – the family business owners who contributed to this research were clear that fundraisers should not be pessimistic about the impact of the recession: many family businesses would rather cut dividends than cut their charity budget and will avoid reneging on pledges, not least because of the reputational impact.

One told us: “Despite the current economic climate we will always see giving as a priority, none of the family members would think it was right to do less”

And another said: “I’m not saying our giving is untouchable but I can’t contemplate standing in front of close family members and saying ‘we’ll increase the dividend but we’re going to slash the charitable funds”. 

But fundraisers should expect to change their approach during the economic downturn, for example glamorous fundraising dinners are not attractive in this climate. As one owner said:

“The froth will be off, like taking a table at a glitzy, high-profile fundraising dinner that everybody’s got to bid daft prices for daft holidays, we’ll be avoiding those sorts of things”.

In conclusion, seeking support from family businesses involves a slightly different approach to traditional corporate fundraising – it’s more personal and a bit harder to get access to the decision makers. But the defining features of family businesses – values in the workplace and a commitment to stewardship – means that these firms are ‘naturally’ philanthropic and prefer continuity in their philanthropic acts. It may be harder to attract their initial support but the pay-off is a productive, meaningful, long-term relationship.

Natural Philanthropists: philanthropy in family businesses

I’ve just written a report on philanthropy in family businesses, it’s called ‘Natural Philanthropists’ and is free to download here

The report is based on focus groups and interviews with family business owners, and it argues that the unique features of family businesses – especially the presence of family values in the workplace, commitment to long-term stewardship and the necessity to transmit values to the next generation – all help to support a strong philanthropic culture within family firms.

I’ll blog another time about the lessons for charities who want to get support from family businesses and the overall recommendations addressed to government, charities and the family business sector itself. But here are the key conclusions:

1. Family business owners are ‘natural philanthropists’.  The presence of family values in the business setting appears to encourage a more responsible or ethical approach to business and creates an environment that encourages philanthropy. In family businesses there’s no distinction between an owner’s ‘real self’ and their ‘work self’, so values don’t get “checked at the door”.

 2. Family businesses are largely local heroes. They often tend to have strong roots in local areas and want to be (and be seen to be) a good neighbour. They also have a strong desire to give back to the communities in which their staff, suppliers and customers live, in recognition of the role they played in generating their wealth.

 3. Informality is the rule but some degree of formality is the ideal. Philanthropic activity in family businesses tends to be informal and ad hoc, particularly in smaller organisations. But those family businesses that take a more strategic and systematic approach, without letting bureaucracy squeeze out family values, appear to make more effective and impactful contributions. 

 4. Philanthropy strengthens family businesses and strengthens business families. Not all family members want to play a day-to-day role in the running of the business, but do want to be involved in some way with the family firm. Grant-making and other types of community involvement creates opportunities for family members to engage with non-operational aspects of the business. It also raises morale within the company, helps to recruit and retain the best staff and meets the need of those employees who demand more from the workplace than the pursuit of profit.

 5. The following factors can increase the chance of family business philanthropy being an effective and enjoyable experience:

·      Being clear about family and business values
·      Identifying experienced leadership within the family and the company
·      Seeking external advice from philanthropic advisers and intermediaries
·      Setting up proportionate governance arrangements
·      Involving teenagers, retirees & those not involved in running the business

There’s a lot more information and in this report, so do have a look at the full version here 


There’s no shortage of major donors…

Yesterday I got away from campus to visit Save the Children to share some of our latest research and find out what people on the front line of fundraising are thinking about. It was an excellent trip,  Save has a very impressive set-up – over 100 fundraisers in a big open plan office, energetic people as far as the eye could see.

The main point of my talk was to share the findings of our first wave of research into Million Pound Donors, which is available online 

But it’s impossible to talk about major donor fundraising these days without acknowledging the elephant in the room that is the recession, so I spent a good bit of time debunking some of the more hysterical media headlines about ‘black holes’ in charity income and setting out my opinion that philanthropy can still thrive in a recession. Here’s why I think that:

(1) There’s no straightforward relationship between having wealth and giving it away.  As anyone who’s tried to raise funds knows – the capacity to give is not the same thing at all as the desire to give. 

(2) People don’t make donations just because they can afford to. If that were true then every rich person would be a philanthropist, and unfortunately, they’re not. Therefore, we make a mistake in assuming that the ups and downs of the wider economy will be directly translated into the ups and downs in giving.

(3) We shouldn’t under-estimate donors’ commitment to the causes they care about. All spending decisions involve prioritising and people can (and often do) choose to cut other things out of their budget before they touch their donations.

(4) There’s a danger in publicly panicking about potential falls in donations because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We know that social norms matter  – a lot of time and effort has been spent encouraging the British public that it’s ‘normal’ to give – and now we risk undoing that by giving the impression that everyone else is dropping their giving, so they should too!

Save staff seemed to concur with much of what I said, including the risk of us talking ourselves into a giving recession, and I gather their income is holding up despite the economic crisis. (In fact, I’ve yet to meet a fundraiser who says their voluntary income is collapsing – it’s either stable or projected to rise, in one case as steeply as 30%!)

A lot of people liked the sentiment in my last slide, so I said I’d put it in my blog. It’s from a book by Jerold Panas called Mega Gifts: Who gives them, who gets them?, and it has always inspired me when I’ve been trying to raise funds:

“Mega givers are captivated by the opportunity, the challenge, the magic of being able to do something special, something others may not be in a position to do… There is no such thing as a shortage of major donors. There is only a shortage of great ideas to raise money. A desperate need for visions and dreams”.

Is the 50% tax rate good or bad news for givers?

Since the Budget announcement that higher rate tax is rising to 50%, those of us who research giving have been bent over calculators trying to work out the implications for donors.

There’s been 2 types of response. Pessimists say, “people will feel poorer and pissed off at paying more tax so will donate less, aggravating any recessionary effect”. Optimists say, “giving just got cheaper – higher tax means higher tax relief, which could counter any recessionary effect.

So who’s right? In my experience – as both a fundraiser and a researcher – tax issues are not deal-makers or deal-breakers, but they are awfully handy for post-hoc rationalisations. Non-donors often say “I pay enough tax and have nothing to spare”, or “My tax is my donation to the greater good”. Some even blame the tax system for being too complicated:“I’d give more if I understood how the tax reliefs work”. 

I used to have no sympathy with that ‘tax breaks are complicated’ view. Under the Gift Aid scheme, so long as you’ve paid enough tax that year, all your donations are eligible for full relief. How complex is that? This proposition was once beautifully illustrated by an animal charity that sent supporters a leaflet showing a basket of 3 kittens that had benefited from their donation. The donor lifted a flap to reveal a 4th kitten which the donor could help simply by signing a Gift Aid form. But post-Budget, the depths of my innumeracy have been revealed and I too have struggled to calculate exactly how many kittens, or parts of kittens, will benefit when tax rates rise by 5 or 10%.

So I turned to the most financially astute person that I know, Professor Gareth Morgan of Sheffield Hallam University, who supplied these calculations and agreed I could share them:

Standard position for a 50% taxpayer – A £1000 net donation is worth £1250 to the charity with basic rate tax reclaimed but £1282 including the gift supplement (until 2011). The gross value of the gift is £1250 and the donor on 50% tax thus get an extra 30% personal relief = £375 (50% – 20%) . So the net cost to donor is £1000 – £375 = £625. So a gift which costs the donor £625 is worth £1282 to the charity – ie. the value to the charity is 205% of what it costs the donor!! Or conversely a donor who wants to fund a major item for a charity only has to sacrifice 48.75% of the final cost – i.e. £1m to the charity can be given at a cost of £487K to the donor.

Gareth concludes: This must be the best charity giving tax break anywhere in the world!

And if those figures didn’t make you dizzy enough, he adds:

If the donor is clobbered by the tax relief on pension contributions being limited to 20%, a donation to charity is much more tax efficient than a pension contribution – this is a completely new phenomenon. Also, however, the a large gift aid donation may have the effect of keeping the donor’s net taxable earnings closer to £150K and hence they may still get better relief on pension contribs than otherwise. Also for donors just over £100K taxable income in the band where the personal allowance is lost (£100K to £112K) the benefits of gift aid are phenominal.  The person is effectively on a marginal tax rate of 60% but a decent gift aid donation could keep them out of that.

Is it time to put the calculator back in the drawer and start spreading the good news to donors that pay higher rate tax?

It ‘aint how you give, it’s the way that you give it

There’s a new twist on the ‘what happens to giving in a recession’ debate, which is usually framed in terms of donations staying constant or declining. (Incidentally, I’ve yet to hear any commentator suggest they’ll go up, though I keep meeting fundraisers whose internal figures include projected increases – some as steep as 30%).

New data from the US suggests that recessionary impacts are not just about quantities but also about style. It makes sense that donors might be less keen on attending glitzy flash-the-cash gala dinners and more keen to write a simple cheque, but the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University have found a 5-fold increase in anonymous giving, which they attribute to the current economic crisis. Ostentatious giving is clearly not a good look when friends, neighbours, employees and customers are finding it tough to pay the mortgage. But the rise in anonymous gifts has other drivers too. For example, a donor might not want previously favoured charities that have been given the chop to know that s/he still has money to give elsewhere. Or they might have sent their first ever cheque to a cause that is working on the front-line dealing with the fallout of the recession – like a homeless shelter or financial advice centre – and not wish to raise expectations that such a gift will be repeated.

Whatever the reasons behind this trend, it’s a good opportunity to raise the question of whether anonymous giving is a good or a bad thing. I tend to the latter view, partly because (as a former fundraiser) I know that identifiable donors are the backbone of fundraisers’ prospecting work, but more importantly, how can we build a culture of giving without identifiable role models?

Is Social Justice Philanthropy a tautology or an oxymoron?

After a break away over the Bank Holiday, I’ve been immersed in reading up on social justice philanthropy (SJP). There’s a lot of interest in this topic, but not a lot of agreement on exactly what it means. It’s too early for me to offer any definitive thoughts, but I have been struck by two polemic contributions to this debate:

Some argue that SJP is a contradiction in terms – philanthropy being (in their terms) a by-product of an unjust system or, as one critic defines it, “people getting credit for giving back what their ancestors should never have taken in the first place”.

Others suggest that philanthropy is, by definition, about social justice because  it redistributes resources from rich to poor and seeks to promote the public benefit.

Like most things, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and I’m looking forward to continuing my education in SJP, and to working out how our research centre can help promote theory and practice in this important area.

How rich is rich enough to give some away?

I’m just finishing a paper I’m writing with Dr Pamala Wiepking, an expert on charitable giving who works at Vrije University, Amsterdam. Our paper is called ‘Feeling Poor, Acting Stingy’ and is a study of how people’s feelings about money can affect their charitable giving. We had access to a survey that asked people about  both their money beliefs and  their giving behaviours and we found that people who have insecurities about their wealth – who feel they don’t have enough or are worried about losing what they have – make smaller donations than those who are confident about their money.

I think it’s fascinating that people who have exactly the same amount of wealth can either be relaxed and feel they have enough to spare to give a nice chunk away, or can feel uptight and worried about letting go of any of it. Of course how much money you think you need depends on a lot of factors, like how many dependants you have or the size of regular outgoings like mortgages. But an interesting study called ‘A Bit Rich’, written in 2002 by Laura Edwards and published by IPPR, contains quotes from rich Brits who felt totally strapped for cash and with ‘nothing to spare’. Memorably, one said, 

“Wealthy? It’s £50 million and upwards as far as I’m concerned. £50 million is the point at which you don’t have to panic anymore”

And another claimed,

“I think I’d need to have something like £4 million in the bank to feel wealthy” 

(both quotes from p.35 of the report, which is free to download)

Our paper concludes that people’s own perceptions of their wealth – however objectively curious – need to be taken into account in fundraising activities, because someone being targeted may not agree they have much to spare. 

But we also suggest that under-giving by the rich might be due to a lack of empathy, rather than meanness or financial illiteracy. As Rousseau suggested nearly three centuries ago, the lives of the rich are so far removed from the lives of the poor that they lack any common fount of shared experience:

“Why are kings without pity for their subjects? It is because they count on never being human beings. Why are the rich so harsh to the poor? It is because they do not have fear of becoming poor.” 

If accusations of lack of empathy seem harsh, a more sympathetic approach suggests that genuine money anxieties are evenly distributed across the spectrum of wealth. A psychological study of motivation by Dr Terri Apter of Cambridge University found it is not uncommon for even very rich donors to feel anxious each time they give. She writes,

‘Typically there’s the man who has a sinking feeling in his stomach every time he makes a large donation… It’s the split between the reality of being rich now – but still having that self-image or those impulses that a not-rich person has. [They think], “Maybe tomorrow, given the markets and the exchange rates and property prices, this is going to look very stupid.”‘

Given the current economic crisis, perhaps we can sympathise somewhat more convincingly with anxious billionaires, even whilst we use this research to shore up our efforts to encourage them to start, or expand, their philanthropic activities.

Gift enclosures in fundraising appeals – the debate rages on

One of the projects I’m doing for the new ESRC Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy involves interviewing donors about how they select charities to support. Even though I don’t ask any questions about the fundraising techniques they encounter, almost every interviewee makes unprompted complaints about the methods that charities use in their appeals. Top amongst the grumbles is the use of ‘free gifts’ to prompt donations – you know the kind of thing: a pen, a set of peronalised address lables, even big freebies like umbrellas get sent out to potential donors.

So I was intrigued to read a defence of this technique, in the latest newsletter produced by the direct fundraising company csdm. You have to sign up for their newsletter (FR Strategy at to read the article, but in essence it reports that the principle of reciprocity (giving-taking-giving back) remains a powerful force that can be harnessed to increase response rates. Anthropologists have long documented gift giving processes in non-Western societies – the exchange of shells, beads, cattle etc being a kind of currency to conduct economic and social relationships. And some sociologists argue that gift-giving propels life in Western societies too. Witness the power of being bought a drink in a pub – social norms make it almost impossible to head home without returning the gesture. And the nature of the tit-for-tat exchange takes no account of the monetary value, what matters is standing your round, not whether the coke someone bought you costs less than the G&T they ask for in return.

csdm reckon that gift enclosures can raise response rates by 100-200%, which is quite a claim. As I blogged on 21 April: 

I wonder if there’s any way of factoring in the negative affect on those who are put off by such methods, and really object to receiving gifts from charities who, they feel, should be spending their money on the beneficiaries not on prospective donors?

What kind of oaks grow from small acorns?

I worked as an in-house fundraiser before moving into researching giving, so never had much to do with fundraising agencies, though I was aware of the big names and gurus that populate that world. One agency I just can’t seem to avoid these days is Bluefrog – good name, sticks in the memory – and they also seem to have a very energetic staff team who pop up everywhere.

This morning I read a blog by one Bluefrogger ( advocating for ‘poundpacks’ – the device whereby a charity requests a tiny donation, eg £1, and then encourages the toe-dipping donor to plunge right in. Two amazing examples are given, where poundland donors left a £2.5m legacy and a £0.5m legacy, despite no other interaction with the charity between these mini and major gifts.

I’m currently doing telephone interviews with committed donors about how they choose which charities to support. Almost every interviewee makes unprompted comments on charity fundraising techniques – donors clearly worry about overheads and ‘waste’, but they also question the honesty of appeals that say “give us £2 to save the X”, and then when they respond to what sounds like an altruistic bargain, they get an immediate follow-up letter or call saying, “actually we need a lot more than £2, and on a regular basis, and can you please leave us your earthly belongings too”.

Perhaps my interviewees are atypical, and clearly they are not aware that the techniques are tested and (hopefully) cost-effective. But – as cleverer people than me have pointed out before – even a 12% response rate to an appeal means that 88% of people rejected the request, and we have no way of knowing what underlying harm is being done both by the normalisation of rejecting requests for help and to the general trust in charities when we keep shifting the goal posts for those that do respond: “Did I say give us a quid? Sorry, I meant to say a million”.

The sky is bright, not falling in

Made the wrong meteorological call today. As wind and rain constitute no excuse for cancelling a promised beach trip to a toddler, I waved off husband and child and settled down to catch up on some work – only for the sun to pop out minutes later and shine with continued brilliance over north Kent all afternoon.

The only bright spot I’ve enjoyed is an email from the director of Philanthropy UK, Susan Mackenzie, who sends this link to the China Philanthropy blog which suggest we’re living in a ‘Chicken Little society’ that is over-egging the scale of the recessionary impact on philanthropy and charitable giving.

Citing research that first appeared in Philanthropy UK’s bi-weekly news bulletin, it notes the lack of empirical evidence for media headlines that suggest the sky is about to fall in. Indeed, one survey cited (the Skoll World Forum Quick Survey on Delegate Economic Outlook) found that only 5.3% of respondents reported feeling “vulnerable” , and 63.2% said they were “able to adapt to the downturn” .

I edit the publications section of the Philanthropy UK newsletter, and am happy to spread the word that you can subscribe for free to both the quarterly newsletter and bi-weekly newsletter at

The China Philanthropy blog also has a post dated 14 April (‘Grrr – Giving in a Bear Market’) which makes a good point about the downturn having a more worrying effect in societies that have a much younger philanthropic market than that found in the US and the UK, where most of the research on any ‘recessionary effect’ is taking place. As they say,

“For nascent philanthropic markets like China, the effect of the downturn could significantly stilt the forward movement of NGOs already short on resources. Continued support from international and local philanthropists is imperative for the health of these organizations”.

A timely reminder for those of us working to strengthen and support the philanthropic sector to remember that our sector is global, and to bear in mind the impact of current events beyond our own doorstep.

Donkeys and Downturns in Devon

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: