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RESEARCH: No bounce back for charity fundraising events in 2021

As the economy springs back to life, more than 50% of charities say they are pessimistic about events, with smaller charities being hit hardest.

As the country begins to move on from the pandemic, a full return to the traditional charity fundraiser appears a long way off.

More than half of charities do not expect to reach pre-pandemic levels of fundraising events by the end of 2021, according to the results of survey by Pro Bono Economics in partnership with Charity Finance Group and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

The survey results show that:

  • More than one in five charities have reduced their spending on fundraising activities in the past year due to cost constraints, uncertainty about future restrictions and furloughed staff.
  • Charities that have organised in-person fundraising events for 2021 are seeing lower public demand for places than usual. Almost two-thirds (62%) are reporting that take-up is worse than a typical year.
  • And overall, 54% of charities do not expect to be back to pre-pandemic levels of fundraising events by the end of 2021.

The new findings shine a light on the uncertainty that remains in the charity sector as the country emerges from the pandemic. They contrast starkly with the optimism seen across other sectors of the economy.

The most recent OECD business and consumer confidence indices for the UK now exceed pre-pandemic levels, and the latest Bank of England forecasts predict a rapid economic upturn, with almost all GDP losses recovered by the end of 2021.

On the other hand, 70% of charities expect the pandemic to have a negative effect on their ability to deliver their objectives over the next 12 months.

However, despite the challenges they face, charities have benefited from innovation and collaboration during the pandemic. The survey found that over the past year, 76% of charities had tried new delivery models, 59% increased their workforce digital skills and 42% collaborated with other charities.

Looking ahead, smaller charities are particularly nervous about the next 12 months having been hardest hit by the pandemic - 57% of smaller charities have seen their overall income drop, compared with 45% of larger charities.

This has been reflected in the number of fundraising events currently undertaken by smaller charities. According to the survey, only 4% of smaller charities are currently carrying out fundraising events at pre-crisis levels, compared with 10% of larger charities.

Those smaller charities that are running in-person events in 2021 seem to be faring worse than larger charities, with seven in 10 reporting that bookings are at lower levels than in a typical year, compared to six in 10 of larger charities.

Manchester-based HIV support charity George House Trust was forced to cancel its annual gala dinner and its drag ball last year. The charity’s chief executive Darren Knight is not currently planning to hold the events this year having seen an 80% drop in the charity’s annual community fundraising last year.

The drop in fundraising events has contributed to sector-wide concern about income that has persisted throughout the pandemic. This has only been heightened by an increase in demand for many organisations.

There is a capacity crunch across the sector – 49% of charities have suffered a drop in income over the past year, while at the same time 53% saw an increase in demand for their services.

Read the report

Caron Bradshaw OBE, CEO of Charity Finance Group, comments:

“It’s a great relief that charities are once again able to fundraise through events and other face-to-face activities and that the general public continue to give generously. However, those who have had to make redundancies and other cuts no longer have the same resources at their disposal and this will inevitably reduce their ability to deliver for the people and causes they support. At the same time, we expect demand for services to continue rising and therefore the gap between income and demand will continue to widen. The sector is not out of the woods yet and the shock of the pandemic will continue to be felt for many months and even years yet. For many charities – including those smaller ones at the heart of their local communities – it’s going to be a long, hard road to recovery meaning potentially unmet need and beneficiaries going without support for some time to come.”

Jack Larkham, Research and Policy Analyst at Pro Bono Economics, says:

“With all the positive talk of the economy bouncing back strongly as the country moves on from the worst of the pandemic, the very real challenges facing the social sector risk being overlooked. Charities have seen demand for their services rocket during the pandemic, with the long-lasting impact of the crisis meaning that situation is set to persist even as the country recovers. But elevated demand comes alongside a sharp squeeze on charity resources. Lockdowns and social-distancing rules have made in-person fundraising events – a key source of income for thousands of charities – impossible, and more than half of charities do not expect to return to pre-pandemic levels of events in 2021. To overcome these challenges, it is vital that more resources make their way into the social sector from government, existing funders and members of the public. In the long-term, there needs to be a complete re-think of public policy to reverse the neglect the sector has suffered from over many years.”

Daniel Fluskey, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, adds:

“The findings of this research provide a timely reminder that a ‘return to normal’ is still a way off for many charities across the UK. While the country emerges from lockdown, many charities are only able to offer reduced level of services as they deal with the ongoing consequences of the reduction in fundraising activity. While charities have been innovative and tried new things, and supporters have responded generously, across the board many challenges remain – especially for smaller charities who have seen a greater proportion of loss to income. We are confident that in time fundraising levels will recover, but the short and medium term remain really challenging for charities with the consequences felt by individuals and communities who rely on their work.”

 

Key findings:

Table 1. Have you taken any of the following steps to ensure your financial viability over the last 12 months?

 

Smaller (<£500k)

Larger (£500k+)

All charities

Used the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough)

38%

69%

58%

Reduced spending on service delivery

38%

44%

42%

Reduced your office costs (less/cheaper space)

23%

39%

33%

Reduced staff numbers or hours (excluding furloughed staff)

17%

39%

31%

Reduced spending on fundraising activity

19%

22%

21%

None of the above

32%

13%

20%

Other - Write In

4%

14%

11%

Liquidated assets

3%

14%

10%

Reduced staff pay

11%

9%

10%

Taken on additional or unexpected borrowing

3%

10%

8%

Don't know

1%

0%

0%

 

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding


Table 2. If you have already organised in-person fundraising events for 2021, what are booking levels like?

 

Smaller <£500k

Larger £500k+

All charities

Fully/oversubscribed

1%

2%

2%

Slightly more booked than in a typical year, this far in advance

0%

3%

2%

Average compared to a typical year, this far in advance

3%

4%

4%

Slightly less booked than in a typical year, this far in advance

4%

9%

7%

Significantly struggling to sell bookings

6%

5%

5%

Don’t know

14%

16%

15%

We have not organised in-person events for 2021

71%

61%

65%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260 of which smaller charities n=93 and larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding. To get to the figure of 62% quoted above, organisations that responded with ‘We have not organised in-person events for 2021’ and ‘Don’t know’ were excluded from the calculation, in this case n=53 of which Smaller charities n=14 and Larger charities n=39

 

Table 3. If you have had to cancel or cut back fundraising events due to Covid-19, when do you think you will be back to pre-crisis levels of fundraising events (assuming all social distancing restrictions are lifted on 21 June)?

 

Smaller <£500k

Larger £500k+

All charities

Already back to previous level

4%

10%

8%

Before 21 June

0%

2%

2%

On or around 21 June

3%

3%

3%

Mid-July

5%

5%

5%

Mid-August

2%

3%

3%

Mid-September

13%

10%

11%

End of 2021

13%

15%

14%

2022

26%

23%

24%

We do not anticipate returning to our pre-crisis fundraising event levels

9%

4%

5%

Don’t know

25%

25%

25%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding

Table 4. How do you expect Covid-19 to affect your charity’s ability to deliver on its objectives in the next 12 months?

 

Smaller <£500k

Larger £500k+

All charities

Large positive

5%

7%

6%

Small positive

8%

16%

13%

Small negative

41%

50%

47%

Large negative

37%

16%

23%

No impact

5%

9%

8%

Don’t know

4%

3%

3%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding

Table 5. What have been your charity’s main achievements over the past 12 months?

 

Smaller <£500k

Larger £500k+

All Charities

Tried new delivery models

70%

80%

76%

Increased workforce digital skills

48%

65%

59%

Increased support for staff wellbeing

29%

75%

58%

Increased appetite to try new things

44%

65%

58%

Met additional need

44%

65%

57%

Tried new fundraising approaches

41%

52%

48%

Collaborated more with other charities

44%

41%

42%

Deepened connections with community

39%

41%

40%

Board and staff worked more closely

33%

39%

37%

Engaged new volunteers

33%

30%

31%

Increased beneficiaries’ digital skills

17%

34%

28%

Collaborated more with local govt.

19%

26%

23%

Collaborated more with businesses

14%

25%

21%

Other - Write In

5%

4%

5%

None of the above

3%

1%

2%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding

Table 6. How has your income over the past 12 months (April 2020-March 2021) compared to the previous 12 months (April 2019-March 2020)?

 

Smaller (<£500k)

(Larger £500k+)

All charities

Overall income

Fallen by more than 25%

34%

15%

22%

Fallen by up to 25%

23%

30%

27%

No change

16%

14%

15%

Increased by up to 25%

15%

32%

26%

Increased by over 25%

12%

8%

10%

Don’t know

0%

0%

0%

N/A

0%

0%

0%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding

Table 7. How did demand for your services change over the past year (April 2020-March 2021) compared to the previous year (April 2019-March 2020)?

 

Smaller <£500k

Larger £500k+

All charities

Increased by more than 25%

20%

28%

25%

Increased by up to 25%

23%

30%

27%

About the same

22%

20%

21%

Fallen by up to 25%

5%

7%

6%

Fallen by more than 25%

14%

6%

9%

N/A – we don’t work directly with beneficiaries

0%

4%

2%

N/A – we’ve been closed due to social distancing requirements

15%

4%

8%

Don’t know

1%

2%

2%

Source: PBE Charity Tracker, 19 April-3 May 2021

Note: n=260, Smaller charities n=93, Larger charities n=197. Figures may not sum due to rounding

 

Notes to Editors:

About Pro Bono Economics:

PBE uses economics to support the social sector and to increase wellbeing across the UK. It combines project work for individual not-for-profits and social enterprises with policy research that can drive systemic change.

About Charity Finance Group:

Charity Finance Group (CFG) is the charity that inspires a financially confident, dynamic and trustworthy charity sector. We do this by championing best practice, nurturing leadership and influencing policy makers.

About the Chartered Institute of Fundraising:

The Chartered Institute of Fundraising is the professional membership body for UK fundraising. We support fundraisers through leadership and representation; best practice and compliance; education and networking; and we champion and promote fundraising as a career choice. We have over 6,000 individual members and over 600 organisational members who raise more than £10 billion in income for good causes every year.

For further information, please contact:

PBE Press Office at pressoffice@probonoeconomics.com or 07715 073433. Follow Pro Bono Economics at (@ProBonoEcon) and Matt Whittaker (@MattWhittakerPB) on Twitter.

 

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