Public generosity is inspirational – but it can't be an excuse for government to not step up

Public generosity is inspirational – but it can't be an excuse for government to not step up

Daniel Fluskey | 16 April 2020

While we're seeing fantastic fundraising from charities and individuals, the IoF's Daniel Fluskey says the impact of coronavirus means that public donations alone can't meet the scale of support that the sector needs right now, we need appropriate funding from government too.

According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I tested this on the bank holiday weekend when I wrestled with the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a better film, yet The Last Crusade is, was, and always will be, my favourite although I don’t think that’s the type of ‘intelligence’ or ‘ability to function’ that Scott Fitzgerald had in mind.

It came to mind because of questions about the relationship between public generosity to emergency appeals, and the asks of government to financially support the charity sector: would government see the demonstrations of great fundraising and giving as a justification to not provide the funds asked for? If so then I think that’s more of a convenient excuse, than it is a credible reason, and needs to be debunked. Fundraised income and public generosity can, and will, play its part – but it can’t be the whole solution: we need both public support and government funding to – in the words of Scott Fitzgerald, again – retain the ability to function. Here are three reasons why:

1. Scale of the need

The UK public are generous. For the last few years donations and legacy gifts have consistently raised around £11 billion. Public giving through fundraising (donations, legacies, and other forms of support such as lotteries) is the most significant income source for the charity sector. Charities would not, and could not, exist as we know them, without public generosity.

But giving is dependent on fundraising. And coronavirus has devastated fundraising activity across the UK. Large events have been cancelled, community fundraising completely stopped, public fundraising frozen, and some fundraisers and other charity employees have been furloughed. Yes, there have been fantastic emergency appeals launched, (such as Marie Curie’s On Hold campaign), but while the need of charities to fundraise is probably greater now than we can remember, it is happening at a time where our donors and the public are in the most distressing and uncertain time that they’re likely to have experienced.

Charities will lose an estimated £4.3 billion in the first 12 weeks of coronavirus. While not all of that will be public donations (it includes trading, lost investments, corporate donations etc) to put it into context that’s over 1/3 of what the public give every year. We simply can’t raise the equivalent of what would be four months’ worth of donations in a normal year when people have lost their jobs, been furloughed, companies are going out of business, and many others are on statutory sick pay.

We have some fantastic fundraising events to come next week (the #BigNightIn effort with Comic Relief and Children in Need, and also the ‘2.6 challenge’ campaign), both of which will showcase excellent fundraising and raise hugely important funds. But we need to be honest about the scale of what they can achieve. The most successful Comic Relief campaign was 2011 when £108.4 million was raised. So to replace the £4 billion losses we see in the first 12 weeks, we’d need to have the equivalent of 40 Comic Reliefs each raising the previous record amount. The scale of financial need is huge, and the threat that it poses to the services that charities run is terrifying. There is only one player in this game that can work to that kind of scale – and that’s the government.

2. It makes economic sense

Charities provide a safety net for so many individuals and communities – providing shelter for those that are homeless, giving a refuge for women suffering domestic, caring for children and elderly people, and so much more. As things stand, the sector will not be able to do what it has done before. More people will have need of charity services, with fewer of those services available as charities have to furlough staff or in some cases close their doors. As that happens, the state will have to step back in – causing more pressure and financial stress on public services that in many cases are at breaking point. The cost will go up, both now, and in the future, and charities can do the job cheaper, and in many cases much more effectively. Funding them appropriately now to do so makes economic sense and will save the public purse in the longer term. 

3. It’s a public signal of the importance of the sector that can boost generosity

While the £750 million does not meet the scale of need, the fact that the government has, publicly, talked about the value of charity and its role is positive and something we need to build on. People will hear about the government match funding committed for the #BigNightIn. And at a time when charities are reaching out to ask for urgent support at a time of unprecedented need, it’s these kinds of messages that can help to unlock the generosity that so many people across the UK will be wanting to show. Giving is an individual act, but also demonstrates solidarity – it shows that we, as a society, care. It also shows what we value, that we are prepared to donate our money to people and causes who need it more than we do. Government needs to see that, and the more it does, the politics of it will become sharper, and the case for support becomes even more compelling.

Clearly, we are not there yet. There is a government financial package, but in fundraising terms it can only be seen as a first gift, not the totally of someone’s full support. And we need it complemented through the excellent fundraising we have seen, and I am sure will see, in the weeks and months ahead. As our members continue to fundraise, so will we at the Institute of Fundraising continue to make the case to government for the kind of support, and at the right kind of level, that the beneficiaries and causes that our charities exist to serve, so badly need.

And while for many, giving to a charity will be even more important and a way of them being proactive and doing something when so much of what’s happening is out of their control, the sums raised will not make up for what we had banked on raising (and therefore what we had budgeted to be able to spend on our services and causes).

Daniel Fluskey is Head of Policy and External Affairs at the Institute of Fundraising

See this page for all the latest information for fundraisers about the coronavirus outbreak from the Institute of Fundraising. It will be kept updated.

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