UK online giving up 85% over 3 years – but still only 3.7% of charitable donations?

Over the last few months a combination of client workload, a shoulder op, and a house renovation project have unfortunately left me no time at all for blogging. However, I have been keeping-up with my report and research reading, and last week’s release of the latest eBay/MissionFish report ‘Passion, persistence and partnership: the secrets of earning more online’ has finally got me back to my keyboard.

At 50 pages this free report is a lengthy but worthwhile read, combining recent research into general UK internet usage as well as online charity activity, together with advice on how to make best use of online opportunities and some thoughts on how things are likely to develop in the future.

What makes it all the more interesting is that it represents an update of a report first released in 2008, providing some insight into how things have changed over the last three years. Naturally a lot of the change reported relates to the explosion in Social Media activity seen over this period, but it is also good to see more organisations reporting that online activity is moving from the sidelines towards the heart of their supporter engagement programmes.

The one piece of data I was particularly interested to see was the proportion of charitable donations now reported as coming online, as this is a common question amongst organisations reviewing their fundraising activity and robust benchmark data is typically difficult to find.

Based on the nfpSynergy ‘Virtual Promise’ research data quoted in the report there was an 85% increase in the percentage of voluntary income that came from online between 2007 and 2010.

Now, 85% is a significant increase – even in the digital world where things tend to increase a lot, very quickly. However, this actually represents growth from just 2% to 3.7% of overall annual voluntary income – which somehow doesn’t seem quite so impressive.

For comparison, according to Blackbaud’s 2010 US Online Giving Report online giving in America represented around 7% of all voluntary income in 2010 – which is better, but still not an especially high proportion given the effort invested in promoting digital fundraising over recent years.

I suspect one reason for these disappointingly low contributions is the fundamental challenge of measuring the true financial contribution of all digital activity. Measuring one-off online donations made through your website should be easy enough, but what about direct debits started online. How many organisations allocate the subsequent years’ regular giving income back to their online income lines? Then there are the increasing volumes of donations made on other sites, from sponsorship income collected through JustGiving, MyDonate, etc. to the emerging growth of microdonations through sites like eBay (eBay checkout microdonations amounted to c£1.5m over the last two years) which might simply not be included when organisations report their ‘online’ income because they are not monitored by the main online fundraising team.

What do you think? Are charities under-reporting online giving or is online really providing less than one twentieth of all the UK’s voluntary income?

2 thoughts on “UK online giving up 85% over 3 years – but still only 3.7% of charitable donations?

  1. I think you’re right about the direct debits and standing orders. Most charities don’t have endless capacity for subtle statistics – they’ll just do what seems obvious and report the total online donation amount separately to the total direct debit amount.

    Secondly, the older generations are less likely to donate online, and more likely to give in their wills, which must be a fair portion of the total.

    Thirdly, I think people give to institutions they know and trust, which makes it a slow-moving thing – people still have the giving setups they had 10 years ago.

    Finally, giving implies meaning, and meaning is generally derived from personal interaction, not online surfing. I have only once sponsored someone online, for example.

  2. I agree it’s low and am sure it’s actually much higher in reality.

    For humanitarian organisations, emergencY online income accounts for a significant proportion (30-50%).

    It’s all about siloed approach to analysis of income. A few charities will not count any online income where a supporter chose DRTV from drop-down list as an answer to ‘what inspired you to donate’ type of question.

    Also, as already mentioned, DDs are not included as well as justgiving, ebay, etc

    It takes time to change the reporting systems as they have traditionally been focussed on direct mail.

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