Exclusive research by NOP into involvement with charities paints an encouraging picture of generosity. Only 13 per cent of Britons aged 15 or over have made no contribution of either time or money in the past year, and many are involved both as donors and as active fundraisers or workers.

The vast majority – 82 per cent of adults – gave money to at least one charity during 1998. A third helped to raise money by taking part in events, and half that number – 16 per cent – have a more formal connection, working for or organising a charity. But this activity is not a substitute for financial contributions – helpers and organisers are more likely to be donors as well.

About a third of British adults have made a more formal commitment to charity. Sixteen per cent of people with any involvement had a standing order or direct debit to a charity; nine per cent have a covenant. Affinity cards have made relatively little impact and are owned by only six per cent of donors. Disappointingly for the charities, only three per cent of donors have made a legacy.

NOP also enquired about membership of charities or charitable organisations, such as the National Trust or the RSPB. Although formal membership is less widespread than either donations or occasional active participation, it is a significant factor on the charitable scene.

A fifth of adults – about 9 million – are members of a charity and they have a far higher profile in all areas of charitable activity than non-members. Ninety-three per cent of charity members have given money to a cause in the past year; and they are a major source of more active help. Nearly half have helped with a special event, and three out of ten work for a charity. Members are also twice as likely as other donors to have made a formal financial donation.

Women are a better target for charities than men. Only eight per cent of women, compared with 18 per cent of men, have had no involvement in charities in the past year. About nine out of ten women have made a donation, compared with eight out of ten men, and women make up six out of ten special event participants.

Young people (aged between 15 and 24) have a different pattern of involvement from the rest of the population. They are less likely to have given money – only 73 per cent are donors compared with 91 per cent of older people – but they make up for this by increased involvement in special events.

Forty-five per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds have raised money this way, compared with a third of 25- to 44-year-olds, and a quarter of the other over 45s. A fifth of under-25s and of 35- to 44-year-olds work for a charity, well ahead of other age groups.

The most prosperous sector of the population, the professional and managerial workers, are also the most likely to give to charity. Ninety-one per cent of ABs made a donation during the past year, compared with 83 per cent of C1C2s and three-quarters of DEs. The ABs also have the highest level of active participation; 44 per cent have raised money in special events and a quarter are organisers.

Upmarket households provide most charity members as well. Thirty-seven per cent of ABs belong to a charity, compared with 23 per cent of C1s and 12 per cent of C2DEs. The the ABC1s provide two-thirds of total membership, although they make up 45 per cent of the adult population.

The use of personalities to promote charities is a popular ploy. Three-quarters of donors reported increased likelihood of giving to charity headed by a public figure. The most effective personality is “an expert in the cause of the charity”.

Fifty-six per cent of donors were influenced by this sort of figurehead, more than twice as many as another sort. Sports personalities and religious institutions both attracted a quarter of donors. Film and TV stars drew a fifth of donors – but only 16 per cent were more likely to give to a charity promoted or headed by a member of the royal family.

The specially organised event is the most effective way of attracting donations. Four out of ten charitable participants said they found such events “very effective”, and another 46 per cent “quite effective”, a total of 83 per cent in favour. Television programmes and appeals were almost as popular, with eight out of ten potential supporters in favour.

These organised, media-based activities attract more support than the traditional personal approaches. Street collections attract the same overall level of approval, but less real enthusiasm – only a quarter of donors found them very effective.

Impersonal media-based fund-raising seems to be far less effective. Press advertising was rated highly by just over one in ten donors, although another third found it quite appealing.

Direct marketing, however, was extremely unpopular with donors. Eighty-four per cent of the target market disliked unsolicited direct mail, and a similar number – 82 per cent – telephone calls from fundraisers.

Commercial and promotional schemes, on the other hand, are approved by the majority of the donors. Eight out of ten, “like to support charities by buying products and services from them”, arguing that gift shops, catalogues and linked deals are working well for charities. Eighty-four per cent like to “buy products when a manufacturer makes a contribution to charity”.

There is little sign, then, of so-called “compassion fatigue” among the British public, although there are warning signs that disillusion is beginning to set in. Nearly two-thirds of people involved in giving felt that “charities spend too much money on marketing and advertising”, and three-quarters that “there are too many charities asking for money these days”.

But with high levels of donation, and, perhaps more significantly, of participation in fundraising activity, public support seems less to be waning than focusing on major flagship events, supported by or springing from media coverage: charities for the television age.

Main Findings

82 per cent of adults have given money in the past 12 months

More than three-quarters of donors like TV appeals

80 per cent of donors dislike direct marketing fundraising methods

Royal patrons only attract 16 per cent of donors


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