Why do you give to charity?

By Matilda Macduff 3 April 2012

I was talking to someone on Friday night about what I do at NPC. This led, as it generally does, to a discussion of her own charitable giving. She told me she gave to Cancer Research because her aunt had died of cancer, and the RSPCA because as a child she had adopted several rescue cats from them, and now kept seeing abandoned pets in her local area.

I’ve had many conversations like this off the back of the ‘what do you do?’ question. And most people will readily volunteer the reasons for their charity choices. I was particularly intrigued to hear my new friend tell me about her attitudes to giving in light of the research into donor motivations NPC is planning to carry out over the next few months.

We’ll be conducting a major study into why UK donors give, the first research of this scale in the UK. It will consist of a survey of over 2,000 medium- and high-income households, alongside in-depth interviews. The Money for Good UK research will be carried out later this year and we hope to publish the results in November 2012. We’re delighted to be supported by the Pears Foundation, Oak Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and NESTA.

Finding out about wealthy donors’ motivations is more important than ever in light of the recent budget proposal to cap tax relief for major donors, which could have a serious impact on high-net-worth giving, and threaten the many charities that rely on these large donations to survive (for more on this see giveitbackgeorge.org, the campaign to get the government to reconsider, headed up by NCVO and CAF). Uncovering more about what makes these donors give, and what could make them give more, has become even more relevant.

The person I spoke to on Friday gave to charity based on personal experience. But in the same conversation with others, I’ve heard a host of different reasons—from a desire to help eradicate a problem they see daily, to a sense of duty stemming from religion or family background, to the request from a friend for sponsorship for an event. Working at NPC, I am always particularly interested to hear whether people think about how effective a charity is before donating to it, and how they go about finding out.

This is why it will be so fascinating to see the results of our survey, and to find out the complex thought processes and gut instincts that govern where money goes in the UK charity sector.

But we’re not just doing it because it’s interesting. By digging down into donor motivations and experiences, we hope this research will help charities in the UK better understand the donors they’re trying to attract, and improve how they engage with them—in particular high-net-worth donors. A US version of this study by Hope Consulting two years ago found that better engagement could potentially leverage huge amounts of extra funding for charities: donors would potentially give an additional $20bn if charities better met their giving needs.UK donors are giving in a country with its own problems and its own distinct history, and the context of their donations differs from that of their US counterparts—which is why a separate study is needed. Unlocking an equivalent potential in UK charitable giving could make a huge difference to the UK charity sector, and the lives of those it seeks to help.

My conversation on Friday reminded me how important it is to think about the different motivations which drive people to carry out the same action. And for charities, how important it is to understand this in order to maximise fundraising opportunities. We hope that our Money for Good UK research can help go some way to achieving this.