Pudsey and the social networks
Charitable fund-raising has always been a sociable affair - from lavish society events to "bring and buy" sales at the local school. But has the social media revolution of the last five years transformed fund-raising - and more importantly, has it made us more generous?
On the first point there seems little doubt. It feels like we are at the peak of the charity season - on Friday the BBC's annual Children in Need appeal takes place, with another frenzy of activity big and small around the country. There are plenty of other calls on our generosity - from Movember, where men grow moustaches in aid of prostate cancer charities, to an appeal by friends of the Bletchley Park computing museum to save for the nation the papers of the code-breaking genius Alan Turing.
What they have in common is their use of social media to spread the word; indeed, some of the smaller fund-raising efforts are based entirely online. In 2005, the internet was already central to the strategy of plenty of charities and amateur fund-raisers but back then, the principal tool was e-mail.
In 2010, it is the social networks, in particular Facebook, which have become the key platform for online giving. For anyone under 35, and for quite a few older fund-raisers, the obvious way to raise money is to create a page on a donation site and use your Facebook profile to promote the appeal.
My colleague Pat is attempting a moustache [READ MORE]
I've been looking at an interesting presentation given by Jonathan Waddingham, digital strategist for donation site Justgiving at a fund-raising conference this summer. He says that the number of people raising funds has doubled in the last three years. During that period, the traffic arriving on his site has changed radically in nature.
Back in 2007, much of it came from e-mail services; now 46% is from Facebook. Just 3% is from Twitter, which underlines the fact that the micro-blogging service is still pretty micro in many of its effects on British life.
Another interesting fact: more than half of the online fund-raisers using Justgiving were under 35, while in the offline world it's generally older people involved in charity appeals.
The newer, younger, social fund-raisers are speeding up the whole process, tapping into their personal and professional networks and persuading their contacts to hand over money in a hurry, via the click of a mouse rather than by cash or postal order.
But hold on a minute: is that the whole picture? A report from the Charities Aid Foundation [531Kb PDF] makes less encouraging reading. It looks at 2008 and 2009 and finds an 11% decrease in donations compared to the previous two-year period. That, says the report, reflects the recession and a fall in very large individual donations.
As for the method of donation, direct debit may be on the rise, but 48% of donors still chose to use cash, and the number claiming Gift Aid - something promoted by online giving - appears to have plateaued.
So that rather changes the picture. Yes, thousands of people are finding that social networks are a great place to raise a few hundred pounds for a favourite cause. But the big sums are still coming from major corporate and individual donors, and the Charities Aid Foundation's report concludes that encouraging higher earners to give more should be a priority for the charitable sector.
Still, if you want to see innovation, enthusiasm and a sense of community in fund-raising, look to the newer media. And it would be remiss of me not to mention an appeal that uses Twitter, Facebook, eBay, YouTube and Justgiving in support of Children in Need: http://www.justgiving.com/rorycellanjones/.