It can be assumed that confidence in the charitable sector is closely linked to the total funding received by its members, which in turn is closely linked to the true impact to beneficiaries.

Despite a large proportion of the UK’s earning population giving regularly, working and volunteering for charities, significant factors for dissatisfaction with the system as a whole have become recognisable tropes in mainstream media and everyday conversation.

We examine these factors and propose a change in how the general public gives to charity.  The crux is around providing assurance to each individual that all the problems they care about are being addressed using their donations.  It is hard to see how to achieve this when individuals are encouraged to support a small number of charities working directly with beneficiaries.  We provide details of a small-scale service we set up to implement this change, and discuss our findings.

Executive Summary

Empath UK is a donor-initiated project to explore gaps in the existing range of options for individuals giving to charity, based on our assertion that donors are widely dissatisfied.  Our goal is to use analysis and action to inspire a new generation of solutions in the charitable sector that are effective in filling these gaps.

Aggregating small donations, we distributed £25,000 in 78 small grants.

There are two primary outcomes from the project.  One, we identified gaps in provision and defined characteristics of potential solutions; we discuss the issues involved and provide some practical guidelines and options for donors and solution designers.  Two, as a demonstrative solution, we ran a service that aggregated small donations from family and friends over a period of several years, distributing £25,000 over a portfolio of 78 small grants. This portfolio met several constraints designed to promote healthy high-level system characteristics, such as wide coverage of cause, geographical areas and type of organisation, and including donors’ preferences in the process for allocating funds.1Details of many of the projects included are available here

One might reasonably infer from how the sector solicits funding today that beneficiaries, charities, or major philanthropists are the dominant participants in charity.  We consider the omission of the general public from this list to be inadequate for all concerned. The natural and practical authority on charity only comes from the individuals who care about the beneficiaries; we will explain how charities fail to represent the interests of such individuals, while high-wealth philanthropists account for under 5% of charitable funding in the UK.2Coutts Million Pound Donors Report 2017

Lack of attention to what donors need is a silent deterrent to their giving.

While we rely on such caring individuals working in the charitable sector not just for their goodwill but for an expert view of the needs of various beneficiaries, current ways of working are centred around a contrived atmosphere of competition that is wasteful and unwelcome from the point of view of the caring individuals who make the work viable by donating, and we will show that it is also unnecessary.  This is one of several criticisms of a nature that can easily lead to a reduction in confidence that giving to charity is an effective, or even a responsible thing to do with one’s money. We assert that a lack of attention to what donors need has been a widespread but silent deterrent to individuals giving, and that better provision can increase overall donation levels as well as making donors more satisfied with the effect of their contributions.

This becomes a particularly interesting opportunity in today’s polarised societies, which can be characterised in part by dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the dominant socio-economic models – and especially their capacity to provide assistance where it is needed – at a time when the efficacy and trustworthiness of charitable organisations is more regularly called into question, and support is growing for exploring alternative and additional options such as basic income, providing money directly instead of funding services, micro-credit, and social enterprise.  Perhaps while both government aid and welfare can be seen to some extent as given out of the obligation and necessity of an implicit social contract, strengthening the capability of the general public to give may be a way of building a stronger sense of goodwill domestically and internationally. There is a potentially game-changing opportunity to present charitable giving on an equal footing alongside other consumer options, and this has substantial potential to increase individuals’ engagement and satisfaction with both charity and society.

In this paper, we break down the core problem, enumerating the underlying factors for likely dissatisfaction in donation and highlighting concepts relating to each factor.  We place an emphasis on long-term impact, widespread giving, group giving, proactive service-discovery, mitigating natural biases, and helping individuals to make quantitative funding decisions.  With the problem described, we outline a framework for solving it, before using this framework to describe how we designed and built our own proof-of-concept service. Finally, we discuss our findings and make recommendations for next steps and changes in outlook for individuals and corporate entities in various positions.  As the paper’s authors are primarily individual donors from other walks of life generally unconnected to the charitable sector, this is our point of handover to those well-placed and inclined to take this further. We consider that we have clarified the fundamental needs that are not being met today, bringing together many strands of existing thought and showing how they can be consolidated into a strong direction for charity.

Structure of this document

We describe here our overall approach and how we have structured this document, so that readers with different relationships to charity can find readily what is of interest to them.

What we are presenting is a combination of a project and a problem analysis with many avenues of enquiry that could easily be taken beyond the scope of the project.  We have focused on three areas: the identification and breakdown of the problem, the project itself from design to discussion of results and future opportunities, and recommendations based on both.

Conceptual definitions, where we rely on them heavily or they are not already in widespread use in the context of charitable giving, can be found in Appendix A.

Quick answers to difficult questions – to the extent that we have been able to anticipate them – can be found in Appendix B.

The charitable projects included in the service portfolio can be found here.

Continue: defining the problem

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