Tough times for the Aid Agencies

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With the recent Oxfam “scandal” (don’t get me started – I think the scandal is the media onslaught on one of our best charities) concentrating attention of the UK aid and development sector, it seems like a good time to review how the fundraising of the international development NGOs has been doing recently.

As anyone who’s worked in fundraising for any time can tell you, finding out how other organisations in the sector are doing is surprisingly hard. Comparative data about charity performance is limited and that which is available is usually of poor quality. The reasons are manifold but are essentially all about the inconsistency of how charities report their income and expenditure. From time to time, organisations like CAF have a go at compiling data but it’s usually expensive and often not that reliable.

Of course for someone like me that’s terribly frustrating. I’m lost without my data, basically. So partly to help my clients at AAW and Audience, but mostly to satisfy my own curiosity, I collect data on charity performance myself.

The only way to do this is to wade through loads of charity annual reports and other published information. It’s terribly time intensive (imagine the joy of my business partners) and at some point I will come up with a better way of doing it.  But for now I carry on and I’ve just finished one piece of analysis that out of the goodness of my heart I’m going to share.

It’s to answer the question, how well is the fundraising of UK international humanitarian and development charities going?  Have they been hit by the fundraising crisis? Are donors moving away from international causes to those closer to home?

I’ve looked at the accounts of the 20 largest UK based international development charities over the last 7 years. These charities have a total income of over £2.7bn, of which £1.2bn is voluntary income. The top 20 account for probably 90% of the income of all international development charities.

top international charities

In the 3 years between 2012 and 2015 the sector showed steady growth in both total income and voluntary (donations) income. Income for the top charities grew by 37% in total and voluntary income grew by 37%.

However between 2015/16 and 2016/17 voluntary income growth stalled. While government income continued to rise by 9% in total, voluntary income fell by 3%. Individual giving fell, for the first time in recent years, by 2%.

These figures are of course all before the latest round of travails for the international sector. The impact of these is yet to be quantified.

As always there are winners and losers in these figures. The three largest agencies, British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children all saw voluntary sector declines (of 11%, 3% and 6% respectively), some of the smaller agencies saw increases, (VSO 22%, MSF 9%).

So there is evidence that the international development sector was already experiencing a (small) fall in public donations from 2015, most likely an impact of the fundraising crisis.

Further evidence is that Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day income fell marginally in 2017, the first time this has happened for some time.

We don’t know whether the fall in international giving is compensated for by an increase in giving to domestic causes. The picture is complicated. The big 3 cancer charities saw a 3% increase in voluntary income between 2016 and 2017. Children in Need, in contrast to Comic Relief, saw record income in 2017. But many children’s and disability charities , to name only two sectors,saw income declines.

Overall then we know that international charities were facing voluntary income challenges before the current wave of attacks on the sector. What the impact of those attacks will be on future donations, it is far too early to say.

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