Giving in the Age of Scepticism: the forces driving this year’s CAF Report headlines.

Amy Nield By Amy Nield

Every year the Charity Aid Foundation (CAF) releases the largest study of charitable giving behaviour in the UK. Their report - chock full of facts and figures that lay the landscape of the money and time given to charities - is always a crucial reading for us. It alerts us to some of the important trends governing the charity sector.

The CAF UK report for 2019 was to some extent sobering reading. Whilst the overall amount of money donated to charities in 2018 remained relatively stable, this was due to fewer people giving more, rather than an overall increase of more people giving to charity across the population.

The Headlines

CAF reports that the number of people involved in charitable activities is decreasing slowly, year on year. The number of people who donated any money to charity in the last year dropped from 61% in 2016 to 57% in 2018, and the number of people who sponsored someone for charity in the last year dropped from 37% in 2016 to 32% in 2018, which is a worrying trend.

Given this trend, it’s also unsurprising (although no less concerning) that regular giving is on the decrease, too, with the number of people saying they had done no charitable giving for the last four weeks increasing from 32% in 2016 to 36% in 2018. 

This begs the question: why? As charity fundraising spend increases, with more touchpoints and channels than ever before to reach people on, surely we should be seeing the fruits of our labours reflected in income? What’s driving this behaviour - is it because people don’t have the means to give, or are there wider forces at play?

Trust and Transparency

When you begin to unpack the CAF report further, it starts to become clear that a shifting attitude, rather than means, could explain why this is happening.

The first one - the big one - is trust. CAF report that in 2018 the balance finally tipped, in that less than half of people said they believe charities to be trustworthy. Furthermore, those who explicitly say they do not believe charities to be trustworthy increased from 19% in 2017 to 21% in 2018. 

Secondly, a force that contributes to decreasing levels of trust is the lack of transparency from charities in helping people understand how they work.

According to a recent YouGov report, almost a third of people say that they don’t donate to charity because they think charities spend too much of their money on administration costs rather than the cause themselves.

When they’ve donated money to a cause in a way that’s driven by high levels of emotion (either through an emotionally-led appeal or a very personal connection), the idea that their funds might need to go somewhere other than directly to a benefactor may drive cognitive dissonance or discomfort.

Also in 2018, GDPR put some power back into peoples’ hands by kick-starting a more critical view of the relationship they have with big organisations, including charities.

Culturally, this feels similar to the way an increasing part of the population seem to be rejecting large institutions that once inspired trust (big businesses, the government, the European Union…). In recent years, the UK has seemed to be increasingly polarised, so perhaps it’s to be expected that charity sector would be experiencing the effects of the same scepticism?

So what can charities to do challenge this worrying trend?

The answer clearly lies in rebuilding some of the lost trust in all parts of the population, challenging this scepticism. That starts with understanding the attitudes of supporters in the wider cultural context in which they live, taking into account the forces that govern their view of the world.

Once we’ve understood them, we should ensure that however we communicate we should make sure that every message they receive communicates honestly where their money goes, the impact it has on the world they live in, all the whilst reinforcing the need for charities’ existence in a turbulent world.


Amy Nield

Amy Nield


A pin sharp planner with a passion for people, Amy is a digital strategy expert with a range of big brand experience. She was named one of Campaign’s Faces to Watch in 2017 for her work with Digitas’s LGBT+ network and is fascinated by communities and conversation – we reckon you’ll enjoy chatting with her.