Local people gave less money to charity in 2017

15 Feb 2018 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 15 Feb 2018

Charitable giving in Northern Ireland fell last year when compared with 2016 – although this drop brings 2017 more into line with recent times. Scope takes a look at NICVA’s latest research into who makes donations, and how.

People in Northern Ireland are less likely to give to charity than a year ago and, when they do donate, they donate less.

A total of 78% of people gave to charity in 2017, which is 11 percentage points lower than the previous year. The total received in donations was around £35m – on the face of it, a large drop when compared with the £52m donated two years beforehand, however the latest figure is more in line what has been seen in other years.

Although the median donation remained the same - £10 exactly – there was a large decrease in the mean amount given per donor. Last year this was £22.20, down £15.60 from the previous year.

These results come from polling commissioned by NICVA. The organisation has conducted research into local charitable giving for 15 years. This most recent survey was carried out by Kantar Millward Brown in October 2017 and an overall representative sample of 1,026 people were questioned.

What must be a major concern is the public perception of charities. Generally this is very positive, but no goodwill is utterly ironclad, and the impact of something outrageously bad like the ongoing revelations about Oxfam – which came to light months after the surveys were done for this research - must represent a risk to the standing of the sector and, accordingly, the willingness of people to give up their money.

When compared with the rest of the UK – look at the latest Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) report for more details – NI looks very healthy in terms of the number of people who donated last year (in the UK only 61% of people gave to charity, which is 17 percentage points lower than NI) although the wider UK’s median donation was almost double our local amount, at £18.

The CAF report found some indications that, while younger people donate less money than older people, they maybe give in other ways; in general they are more likely to volunteer, sign a petition and take part in a public demonstration or protest -  with students are the group most likely to have volunteered in the last year (23%).

NICVA research

Although the number of people who gave some money to charity in 2017 (78%) dropped significantly when compared with 2016 (89%), it is important to note it was much closer to the figure for 2015 (81%).

There is a similar story for the percentage of people who had donated in the four weeks before responding. In 2017, this was 57%, a marked fall from the 68% the year previous. This was a reversion towards the percentages in 2015 (also 57%) and 2014 (56%).

However, the four-week figure has suffered a more medium-term decline. The above rates were generally much lower than figures from selected earlier years for which stats are available: 2018 was 84%, 2010 was 83%, 2011 was 66% and 2013 was 73%.

In terms of that four-week figure, there was little difference between women and men when it came to giving (59% vs. 56%) but people aged 55-64 were significant outliers, with 78% of them donating. People who live in the West of NI were also more likely to give than the general population, with a figure of 64%.

Methods of giving – and legacies

Some of the most interesting results from the survey stem from methods of giving.

In the past year, 12% of people have used a crowdfunding site, like JustGiving, including 14% of women and 10% of men. This included 11% of people from the cohort aged 16-23, 23% of those aged 25-34, and 19% of those aged 35-44.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these percentages tail off further as people get older – 11% of people aged 45-54, 9% of those aged 55-64, and only 2% of people who are 65 or over.

Of those who donated, 50% gave to an individual, 27% gave to a charity, and 20% gave to both (3% were not sure or could not remember).

At the same time, legacy giving does not appear to be a priority for a large proportion of people in NI – albeit the number of people considering leaving a legacy donation has increased, up to 16%.

What is a concern, however, is the relatively small number of people who have actually made a will: only 27% of all adults.

This is less of a concern for charities and more of a worry for individuals themselves – read our previous piece here with Will to Give – because not having a will can make things tricky for loved ones at a most difficult time.


2017 was not a bumper year for the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.

Nor, however, is there cause for great alarm – but charities, of course, will be keen to keep donations as high as possible in the coming years, especially as NI currently faces a particularly uncertain future.

Only 2.9% of respondents said they expected the amount they give to charity to increase in 2018 (the equivalent figure 12 months ago was 14%), and 6.4% expect the amount to decrease (compared with 3% last year).

There are green shoots as well; although the number of people who have made a legacy pledge remains, on the face of it, quite low, the figure of 9% is an enormous relative increase on where it was in 2014 – only 2%. Furthermore, local uncertainty about Brexit seems set to have little or no effect on donations, with over three quarters of all respondents believing this will have no bearing on the amount they give to charity in the upcoming year.

Reputational damage seems the biggest potential threat to sectoral funding.

The number of people who are put off from donating because of various misgivings about charities are not huge but nor are they insignificant. When asked what is the main barrier stopping them from giving, 12% of respondents say they do not trust charities, 8% say they don’t know enough about how money is being spent, 4% say they disagree with how charities spend money, while other concerns include fundraising methods. Disasters such as the Oxfam scandal risk driving these percentages upwards.

These findings are clearly not a cause for celebration for the third sector but neither are they remarkably disheartening. Overall the results are not hugely out of step with recent years, although people’s attitudes perhaps reflect the socioeconomic uncertainty that currently clouds Northern Ireland.

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