Does anyone really believe that giving fell by a whopping 20 per cent last year? I know I don’t. I know of only a handful of charities whose income was challenged in the way that the NCVO suggests, and the evidence from other sources such as the Treasury and nfpSynergy suggests a much more static picture.
While the NCVO might argue that it is largely only the very small charities that have suffered, if the big guns of the sector (who account for 80 per cent of all donations) are reporting static or even marginally increasing levels of giving, then the fall in small charity income must have been pretty catastrophic for a 20 per cent fall to be recorded overall. I see no evidence of that.
I’m equally unconvinced that it is lower value donors who are reining in their charitable donations. Giving is dramatically skewed with a relatively small number of very generous people supplying the lion’s share of the income. If Gift Aid claims are largely static then lower value giving must have fallen dramatically. I see no evidence of that either.
A much more plausible explanation for the figures is the various errors that sometimes creep into even ‘nationally representative’ samples of donors. Sometimes the folk selected turn out to be atypical of the population as a whole or individuals give answers that reflect their mood rather than their genuine behaviour.
My prediction for 2013 is thus that the debate we’re now having about the accuracy of the figures will finally prompt the creation of a panel of charities prepared to count the income from a variety of sources. Such panel data, over time, would give us a much more accurate picture of the true pattern of individual giving in the UK.
Adrian Sargeant is professor of marketing and fundraising at Plymouth Business School