When the going gets tough, would you choose between charity and chocolate? The Public Attitudes to Giving in the Pandemic report reveals which one Australians would choose.

The latest study between More Strategic and FIA revealed that people are more likely to give up donating than reduce buying chocolate. Ouch!  

When asked to rank which areas they would look to cut expenditure in first, respondents ranked donations to charities’ sixth, while chocolate and other treats ranked eighth. But broken down into donors and non-donors, there were significant differences. Non-donors ranked charitable donations as the second most likely area to cut back on. Lower value donors were even more likely to put chocolate ahead of charitable donations, which placed fifth. Thankfully, higher value donors were much less likely to want to cut back on charitable giving. 

Altogether, the Public Attitudes to Giving in the Pandemic report found that 23% of respondents said they expect to give less in the future. This percentage was up from 12% in January, showing that we may have underestimated the overall impact and longevity of the pandemic at the beginning of the year 

But while, nonprofits may not seem as popular as chocolate, trust remains highOver half of the respondents scored the sector seven out of 10 or more for trust. This indicates that cutting back on donations is more to do with people’s financial situation as opposed to their faith in nonprofits to be ethical and honest 

However, when asked if they believe charities are well oiled machines, the answer was no! Only half of donors and a third of non-donors consider charities to be well run 

Reflecting on the past year 

Riding out the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions has caused many people to reflect on their values and purpose. Many respondents had thought about others who were doing it tough, appreciated their family more, and reflected on what is most important in their lives. Donors were more likely to have positive reflections on empathy, gratitude, and purpose than non-donors. 

Age also played a part:  

  • Those over 45 were more likely to be thinking of how tough others have it 
  • Those aged between 35-44 were most likely to be reflecting on what’s important in life  
  • Those 65-74 were most likely to say they have felt fortunate and grateful 
  • Younger people were more likely to have felt lonely and isolated 

These reflections may be an indication that people may be more receptive to giving in the future.  

Expectations for the future  

People are much more optimistic about their future and believe their personal happiness and wellbeing will improve. There is a bit more uncertainty when it comes to financial confidence. Donors felt more confident than non-donors that their wellbeing will get better but were less sure about their financial situation (57%). The Public Attitudes to Giving in the Pandemic by More Strategic and FIAOverall, most respondents (40%) believe that their financial situation won’t change too much in the next 12 months, but more people believe that it will get better (38%) than think it will get worse (24%). 

Respondents feel similarly about their personal expenditure as they do their financial situation with most respondents thinking it will stay the same or will increase. To cope with the expected increase in expenditure, respondents are reducing other areas of spending and carefully prioritising their finances. Which is where chocolate comes in. The Public Attitudes to Giving in the Pandemic by More Strategic and FIATrends in giving

Respondents were also asked about their giving expectations for the next year. The majority of respondents believe they’ll give about the same amount of money to the same number of charities. Slightly more people are expecting to give less in the future, which shows a different trend to previous studies where most people expected to give more.  

From January this year, only 12% of respondents expected to give less next year. In September, this number increased to 23% of respondents. It seems that at the beginning of the year, respondents were more optimistic or more financially secure, and the effects of COVID-19 have caused people to reconsider. 

PubThe most popular causes supported by respondents were health and medical research, children’s charities and animal welfare. However, the causes that people gave the most to annually were religious, overseas development and education.  

When it comes to giving channels, respondents were more likely to make donations online (49%). Other popular channels included donating goods to a charity ‘op shop’ (43%), buying raffle or lottery tickets (40%), and purchasing from a charity ‘op shop’ (33%). Most of these channels are considered low involvement and low value. 

Younger respondents were more likely to make online donations, participate in fundraising events, and donate through workplace giving or text. This was also highlighted as the most favourite way to give. Middle and older groups were both more likely to buy lottery tickets and contribute through collections. Higher value donors were more likely to pick ‘regular monthly donations’ (38%) and online donations (27%) as their most favourite ways to give.  

Respondents seemed to indicate that they would be more inclined to support charities through non-financial channels: volunteering, petition signing, and donating goods, which may show that despite people’s financial situations changing, they’re still keen to keep a connection to charities and nonprofits. 

Insights into giving 

As most charities shifted towards digital advertising and marketing during the pandemic, it seems like people were taking notice. Compared to results from 2018, more people recalled email requests and visited a charity website, watched a video or read a tweet from a charity. This shows that despite the saturation, and the increased amount of time people were spending online, there was still cut through.  

When it comes to regular giving, lower value donors are more likely to consider pausing their donations, while higher value donors are more likely to increase their monthly donations. At the same time, higher value donors are more likely to stop giving, rather than pausing or decreasing their donation value. 

Respondents were also asked about their wills. High value donors were more likely to have updated it in the past year, while low value donors were more likely to say they don’t have a will. Men were more likely to say that the pandemic has prompted family discussions around wills. 

COVID-19 and the nonprofit sector 

When asked about their sentiments on the role and importance of charities, most people believed that charities were essential, especially given the pandemic, and were worried about the impact on society if charities closedDonors had higher levels of concern about the impact of COVID-19 on charities and strongly supported their role, impact and survival. Most agreed that charities should continue to fundraise during the pandemicRespondents did feel, however, that charities should consider merging. Something that the AICD Not-for-Profit Governance and Performance Study 2020 report indicated had been paused during COVID-19.  

The Public Attitudes to Giving in the Pandemic by More Strategic and FIA50% of respondents had not given to organisations to specifically address the impacts of the pandemic. Those who had, were more likely to be donors and higher value donors.  

The study found correlations between those who have said the impact of the pandemic on their financial situation was better than expected and those more likely to say they would increase their giving in the futureFuture expectations on financial situations and personal expenditure also correlated with respondent’s future giving intentions. 

Similarly, those more optimistic about the future, and those who have felt fortunate and grateful through the experience of COVID-19 indicated that they expect to give more in the future. 

So what does this mean for the future of nonprofits? While it might seem a bit bleak when the sector can’t stack up against a confectionary item, we need to look at what chocolate symbolises – comfort. And after the year we’ve all had, it’s something everyone could use right now. What can we learn from this?  

While trust is high, and the importance and need are clearnonprofits need to prove that they can run a tight ship and provide their donors with the same comfort as a simple chocolate bar. Comfort knowing that their donations are being used effectively through clear and regular communications. Comfort that they’re appreciated no matter how they give, or through which channel. Comfort knowing that charities will continue to fundraise and provide support to those who need it most through the most impactful programs. 

The pandemic has had a positive effect on the sector’s reputation. It has also caused people to reflect on their own priorities and purpose and the needs of others. Younger people are more optimistic about their future and indicate that they’re more likely to give more and engage locally. How can we capitalise on this? How do we inspire and engage with younger audiences? How do we not take this shift in perception for granted?  

Read the full report at FIA’s research hub.

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