Weathering the storm in the charity sector

by Catherine Henderson

With this recession being touted as the worst since the 1930’s charities are having to get creative in the methods that they employ to fundraise.

Edinburgh based charity “500 miles” which raises funds to supply prosthetics for people in Zambia and Malawi this weekend faced the recession head on, organising a ball with over 700 guests and sponsored walk with 2000 participants.

The charity “500 miles” is founded by Olivia Giles, the former Edinburgh lawyer, who is a quadruple amputee as a result of meningitus in 2002.  Giles organised a similar fundraising event in 2004 and can clearly see the difference a tough economic climate has had on attempts to fundraise.

Olivia Giles, founder of charity "500 miles"
Olivia Giles, founder of charity "500 miles"

Giles says “The biggest difference was the amount of effort I had to put into getting corporate support.  Business owners had to think carefully before committing to help as many were facing the prospect of cutting jobs.  Tough choices are being made by these companies and supporting charities isn’t top of their agenda.”

Volunteers form the backbone of any fundraising event and Giles’s event used over 100 volunteers on the day, Giles felt that this was particularly challenging  “When times are hard people tend to look after themselves and their own and don’t always look outwards to what they can do for others – particularly if that involves charities supporting people outside the UK.”

National charity, Age Concern (Help the Aged Scotland) is also fighting to maintain their income levels.   Sheena Hunter, Head of Fundraising says “Overall donations are down, our support from business is reducing, and we’re losing some of our regular donors.  We’re facing a very lean year ahead and will be reliant on using our reserves this year.”

Hunter’s advice to other charities is “create as broad a fundraising base as you can, but at the same time focus strongly on individual donations, developing new relationships with business is going to be very difficult to do right now.”

Research by the Institute of Fundraising and Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP has shown that more charities are now feeling the effects of the recession with 56% of charities expecting a decline in their income.