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The University of Southampton

Patterns of charitable giving uncovered

Published: 18 December 2007

At Christmas time, many charities will be hoping their supporters will be generous in their donations this year. Now, new research from Professor John Micklewright and Dr Sylke Schnepf at the University of Southampton has revealed significant trends in charitable giving that may help charities better identify future donors.

Their research indicates a pattern in people's choices of charities to support, suggesting that those giving to one charity may be more likely also to give to another charity. For example, they found that those giving to medical research are more likely also to give to overseas development than the average person. This pattern holds for other charitable causes, suggesting that charities seeking to raise more money would do well to target existing donors of other charities.

Although statistics from individual charities only include their own donors, social statisticians Professor Micklewright and Dr Schnepf have been able to examine survey data that record all donations that people make to different causes. They found that half of those making a charitable donation in any one month will give money to more than one good cause. Another quarter will give to two causes, and about one in eight will give to three causes. The remainder, more than 10 per cent, will give to four or more.

Professor Micklewright says: "Many people's views of charitable giving are based on anecdote or on their own personal experiences. This is natural since most of us do give to charities. But it is essential that debate on the future of charitable giving is based on the facts, and the survey data we use go a long way towards uncovering the true patterns of giving."

The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is part of the UK Giving 2007 report, produced by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, using survey data collected by the Office for National Statistics.

In another piece of current research based on the same data, Professor Micklewright and Dr Schnepf found overseas development and emergency relief to be among the leading charitable causes. One in ten people made a donation in the four weeks before being interviewed and average sums given tended to be large relative to other causes. University graduates and people with a managerial or professional background appeared more likely to give to overseas causes than to other leading causes such as medical research or animal welfare. Although the majority of people do not give to overseas causes, most expressed concern about poverty in developing countries, and they see charitable giving as an effective method by which they can contribute to the alleviation of this poverty.

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Notes for editors

The chapter by Professor John Micklewright and Dr Sylke V. Schnepf on patterns of giving in UK Giving 2007 is available from the NCVO website or CAF website (

The paper by Professor John Micklewright and Dr Sylke V. Schnepf, 'Who Gives for Overseas Development?' is available at the University of Southampton website (

The research was supported by Economic and Social Research Council grant 'Giving to Development' (RES-155-25-0061), which forms part of the Non-Governmental Public Action programme.

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