the words faith and charity on a scrabble board

What’s faith got to do with it?

By Rachel Wharton 20 December 2016

At Christmas, giving is often at the front of people’s minds: giving presents to friends and family but also giving to those in need. Last Christmas, inspired by our ongoing research into faith-based charities, I wrote a blog about the role that faith plays in giving and the work of faith-based charities during the festive season. A year on, we’ve completed this research, having published our final report last month.

So what did we find?

Faith-based charities make up over a quarter of the UK’s voluntary sector

We began this work through simple curiosity, and soon found that faith-based charities are an important part of our voluntary sector. The data told us that out of the 165,226 charities in England and Wales, 44,985 are faith-based. That’s over 12,000 more charities than we originally estimated.

As well as finding that faith-based charities make up over a quarter of the sector, we also looked at the different religious make-up of these charities, the income they raise, how old they are and the areas they work in. All of this revealed new things to us about the voluntary sector we work in and showed us that we needed to have a deeper understanding of the place of faith in charities.

Faith-based charities face unique opportunities…

Our interviews and surveys revealed that a grounding in faith can bring advantages to a charitable organisation—which we outline in depth in What a difference a faith makes. Faith-based charities are often embedded in local communities, combining status and trust within those communities with networks and assets such as access to local buildings. This can make faith-based charities extremely effective at delivering services—either within these communities or further afield—and raising funding for their work. They are well-positioned to respond to needs as they arise and can have the knowledge to provide culturally appropriate services. As a result of their trusted position in a community, faith-based charities can also be uniquely placed to reach hard-to-reach groups. We believe that some are able to weather the storm of difficult financial times better, and continue to provide services through challenging times.

as well as challenges

This isn’t to say it is plain sailing for faith-based charities. They face difficulties that are familiar to many charities, such as worries over rising levels of need and reductions in funding, as well as challenges that are specific to faith-based charities. The latter can include suspicions around their motivations and values—sometimes arising from a lack of understanding—which can lead to feelings of mistrust developing between different parties. And faith-based charities could face difficulties in the future if they don’t consider questions such as an ageing volunteer population and funding base, as well as how they respond to the evolving place of faith in our society.

It’s important to understand and recognise the contribution faith-based charities make

Our research helped us understand that faith-based charities have a lot to offer the voluntary sector and our wider society. In the context of reduced government budgets and consequent increases in unmet need alongside reductions in services, it becomes particularly important that we, as a sector and a society, make the most of the assets that we have. This means that if faith-based charities can achieve things that others can’t, or in situations were others might struggle. Whether our organisations are faith-based, secular, or based on faiths that differ from one another, we must think about how to work together to deliver to those we aim to help.

Find out more about this research, including outputs and media coverage.

Let us know what you think in the comments below, or over on twitter via @NPCthinks and #FaithCharities.