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Giving Australia: The Rise of the Charity Bypass

1 December 2016 at 10:21 am
Lina Caneva
The rise of crowdfunding and other technologies has allowed a “charity bypass” in Australia with more donors directly engaging with their causes often leaving charities in their wake, according to the largest ever national research effort into giving and volunteering.

Lina Caneva | 1 December 2016 at 10:21 am


Giving Australia: The Rise of the Charity Bypass
1 December 2016 at 10:21 am

The rise of crowdfunding and other technologies has allowed a “charity bypass” in Australia with more donors directly engaging with their causes often leaving charities in their wake, according to the largest ever national research effort into giving and volunteering.

Overall the landmark research project found “a picture of both continuity and change, with a mix of the positive and cause for cautious concern”.

The Giving Australia 2016 project, which launched in Canberra on Thursday, investigated fundraising, donor trends, volunteering, philanthropy, the impact of new technologies and corporate giving.

The Giving Australia 2016 project was undertaken by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology, the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs on behalf of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services and the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership.

giving Aus pic

Giving Australia research group at Thursday’s launch: Prof Wendy Scaife, Wayne Burns, Prof Myles McGregor Lowndes, Prof Jo Barraket

Former social services minister Scott Morrison first announced the study in 2015, saying: “By drawing a picture of giving and volunteering behaviours, attitudes and trends, this project will improve our understanding of the capacity and needs of community organisations.”

The three-year $1.7 million Giving Australia 2016 project is described as the largest ever research effort into philanthropic behaviour to understand how, why and how much Australians give to charity.

The report found that an estimated 14.9 million Australian adults (80.8 per cent) gave a total of $12.5 billion dollars to charities and not-for-profit organisations over 12 months in 2015/16, (up from $7.7 billion in 2005).

In 2016 the average donation was $764.08 and the media donation was $200.

However the research pointed to a trend of fewer people giving more. While the percentage of people donating slightly decreased, the average donation increased in real terms by $210.16.

Lead researcher and director of Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT Associate Professor Wendy Scaife told Pro Bono Australia News that while Australia was seeing an improvement in giving overall in 2016 “it is not the gilded age of giving that we were noting when we were first doing this project in 2005”.

“Then we were coming off the back of 10 years of really strong economic growth… and when there is a strong economy there is strong giving,” Scaife said.

“It’s not the gilded age of giving. It’s not the wonderful growth in giving that we were noting back then but even though it is going ahead you would have to say with a note of caution it is starting to flatline.”

Graph technologies uptake

In that context she said Australia was also seeing the rise of the “charity bypass”.

“It is both a joy and a trial… having technology that has enabled all of these wonderful ways that people can now give. And it’s easy. Technology has delivered it to our fingertips… it’s delivered it to our mobile phones, to our iPads, at the touch of a button we can be part of something enormous, a small cog in a huge wheel… an outpouring of support in a tragedy in the community etc,” she said.

“Because this means that we don’t necessarily need the charity as the middleman and there is a real danger for the charities there.

“There’s real competition in a way in the sense of making charities think well where is our relevance and what is it that we are value adding and why are people wanting to go more directly when perhaps they should understand we know everything they need to know about this [cause] and we are experienced in that area so we can place their dollars far better.

“The academic term is ‘disintermediation’… the cutting out of the middle person. The threat is both a concern and an opportunity.

“Of course smart charities are setting up their own programs and using crowdfunding as another vehicle to raise funds. They are going on as an organisation not an individual. All of that is possible through technology.”

The research found that traditional approaches to fundraising were still the most often used by charities despite being less likely to attract a donation compared to a decade ago.

However while more than three-quarters of donors who were approached by telephone said they disliked being called, nearly one-quarter still made a donation when approached this way.

An on the topic of charity chuggers some 64.3 per cent of people said they disliked being approached by street fundraisers but 19.3 per cent still gave a donation.

In response to the decreasing effectiveness of traditional approaches, the report said many charities had invested in technologies making it easier to give through online and digital giving.

Scaife said one of the high points from the not-for-profit survey was regular giving.  

Regular giving pie chart

“That comes back to technology and making that easier,” she said.

“You know with face-to-face some people love to hate it. It is appealing to some part of the community who are happy to sign up to that regular gift [via face-to-face]. People are now signing up for that month-in-month kind of giving or payroll giving… that giving habit is coming through very strongly.”

The report found that some 60.5 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they generally give on the spur of the moment. Those who plan their donations give six times more dollars.

Scaife said a particular highlight of the research for her was the growth of collective giving via giving circles and community foundations which she described as giving “tribes”.

“There is something tribal when you get together as a group and you bring different skills and we are starting to see the emergence of giving tribes. In any tribe there is a synergy to it… they do what they do better as a tribe,” she said.

“I’m a bit excited about that. What we are hearing is that people are loving giving socially and loving learning as well and working with like-minded people. It is a genuine spirit of making a difference.”

She said one of the surprises from the research was the social phenomenon that fewer people are actually making a will.

“Last time [in 2005] around 58 per cent of Australians had a will and of those 7.5 per cent had included a charitable bequest. This time it is 51 per cent and again 7.5 per cent have included a charitable bequest.

“So despite very good efforts from campaigns like include a charity and charities becoming more sophisticated in getting the message out about leaving a gift in your will, we still have that social phenomenon that fewer people are actually making a will.”

Scaife said overall the research was really the story of context and the story of paradox.

“With this kind of depth of data it’s not one simple clear message. It is the case that everyone will look at it from the perspective of their own community or organisation or giving and what we hope across the next year is to bring out maybe 50 to 100 messages that come from the data and get them out there so that people can chew them over.”

The co-research leads for the Giving Australia 2016 research project are Professor Jo Barraket, director of the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University and Professor Myles McGregor Lowndes OAM, the former Director of The Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies and now at QUT Business School.

In launching the report the Assistant Minister for Social Services Senator Zed Seselja said Giving Australia 2016 provided an understanding of how and why Australians give and volunteer, how much they donate and how these factors affect the not-for-profit and philanthropy sectors.

“This information will establish good benchmark data to measure progress on philanthropic giving, and provide a strong evidence base to assist future policy decisions to encourage charity in Australia,” Seselja said.

“The level of detail provided in these reports will help the sector shape and implement strategies to build on successes enjoyed to date. The research has also identified barriers to giving and volunteering [along with the] factors which negatively affect people’s desire to donate money and help others being approached too aggressively and a perception of waste.”

The assistant minister said that on another level, the research would help the government make informed decisions about the best ways to help the sector.

The full report will be available Thursday at the Partnerhip website here.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.


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