UK charities fear Covid uncertainty will delay fundraising rebound

Volunteers’ hesitancy, inability to plan events ahead and lower demand for places likely to hit charities’ finances

Charities are facing a fundraising black hole even after lockdown fully lifts, with vital cash-generating events such as sponsored hikes, tea parties and bucket collections not expected to rebound for months.

The terminal illness charity Marie Curie said volunteers’ hesitancy and the inability to plan events ahead could result in a worse impact on its balance sheet than in 2020 when emergency measures such as furlough helped. The cancer charity Macmillan is forecasting a £38m shortfall in donations, largely driven by the continuing lack of in-person events.

A survey of 260 charities found that more than half do not expect to reach pre-pandemic levels of fundraising events by the end of 2021 and charities that have organised in-person events are seeing lower public demand for places than usual.

Almost two-thirds are reporting that take-up is worse than normal, according to the research by Pro Bono Economics, an advisory charity chaired by the former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.

Macmillan, which relies on public fundraising for 98% of its income, said up to 30,000 people normally took part in its “mighty hikes” sponsored walks over the summer months, but because spring had been lost to lockdown and there were concerns of a further Covid wave in autumn, the window had narrowed and only 15,000 people would take part this year. Volunteers also usually raise at least £6m a year through community events such as bake sales, coffee mornings and supermarket collections.

“There’s a bit of reticence to get back to the old style of fundraising,” said Claire Singlehurst, Macmillan’s director of relationship fundraising. “We’re expecting it to be less than half this year.”

The Chartered Institute of Fundraising said the problem was causing charities to limit the services they provide. Charities in the UK contribute about £18bn a year to GDP and deliver key services ranging from food banks to medical research.

“The short and medium term remain really challenging for charities with the consequences felt by individuals and communities who rely on their work,” said Daniel Fluskey, the institute’s head of policy and external affairs.

Many charities’ finances have been battered by the pandemic. In a survey in May by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, almost a third said their balance sheets had weakened in the previous month – more than those whose financial health was improving. Two-thirds of charities believe Covid will continue to have a negative impact in 2022.

Marie Curie, which runs 500 volunteer groups nationwide that stage bucket collections, tea parties and fashion shows to raise funds, said some of the volunteers remained hesitant. “There are some people who are still feeling really cautious and are nervous about getting back out there,” said Meredith Niles, the executive director of fundraising engagement.

There will be fewer of the charity’s gala events and mass quizzes because of the long lead times for booking venues, so many planned for this financial year will not happen until 2022. Last year net funds raised were down less than the 30% the charity had first feared, but Niles said this year “looks more challenging and we expect it to be worse”.

The situation is proving frustrating for fundraisers, who are aware that many people whose earnings have been unaffected by the pandemic have built up savings, part of which they may be willing to give to charity.

“A lot of people had it pretty good, saved a lot of money and want to give back,” said Niles. “It’s harder for us to use events to capture that generosity than in ordinary times, but we have to think of other ways.”

Contributor

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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