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Public perceptions of aid and development in Scotland and the implications for fundraising

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted public perceptions of aid and development in Scotland? Are changing levels of support for international charities resulting in reduced fundraising revenues at a time of heightened demand? What are the current opportunities to engage supporters of international charities with public fundraising campaigns? We take a look at what some of the evidence suggests, how this relates to fundraising and signpost a current campaign opportunity for international charities. 

It is a tough time to be an international development organisation looking to diversify your funding base and win over public support for international aid.  For Scottish charities, there has been no access to resilience funds from the Scottish Government and so, many organisations without existing institutional funds have turned to either trusts and foundations or the generosity of the public to fund COVID-19 relief work around the world.  

Public fundraising this year has been challenging, with huge swathes of face-to-face community events cancelled during lockdown and some charity shops have been closed for nearly a financial quarter. There have been some fantastic examples of creative digital fundraising displayed by Alliance members but the need is great, with an estimated 34 million people globally pushed into extreme poverty this year as COVID-19 threatens to undo years of effort to alleviate poverty. In addition, funding strategies need to be cognisant of the possible implications of a global recession, with a rumoured decrease in gross UK government spending on aid and a possible downturn in both corporate giving and public fundraising.  

A theme that emerged from our COVID-19 research in May and recent conference session in September was that existing donors to international development causes are committed but finding new supporters is challenging at this time. Our panel session about the impact of COVID-19 on public perceptions of aid and development drew together Graeme McMeekin, Scotland Director of Tearfund; Huw Owen External Relations Manager for the Disasters Emergency Committee, and Jennifer Hudson Director of the Development Engagement Lab and Professor of Political Behaviour at UCL.  

During the panel we heard about how existing international charity supporters are interested and engaged with work around the world, and we also heard about how academic research shows that the majority of the UK public view investment in public health and development as a social safety net instead of a drain on resources. Yet, results from an in-session poll of conference attendees found that 50% thought COVID-19 had made it more difficult to win public support for international aid and development. 

There do seem to be some positive messages about public perceptions of aid and development amidst the gloom. OSCR’s recently released Scottish Charity and Public Surveys 2020 results show that public trust in charities has increased compared to 2018. In the past public trust for international charities has been lower than charities working in Scotland, but this year focus groups found that “Donors were willing to continue to donate comparable amounts of money, goods and time somewhere else” (p23). OSCR also noted an increase in trust for international charities of 16%, which compares to an increase of 30% for charities operating locally. Although, there was a large difference in those who decreased their trust in international charities of 35%, compared to a decrease of 7% for local charities.  

At a time of unprecedented need with the emerging impacts of COVID-19 becoming clearer around the world, what are the current opportunities to raise money from the public for international charity campaigns? 

One current opportunity is UK Aid Match which has just launched a new funding round, with applications due by 18 December for British charities working to achieve the global goals. For every £1 a charity appeal raises, the UK Government matches the donation with a £1. This year there is a particular focus on the longer-term impacts of COVID-19, girls’ education, and ending preventable deaths through tackling malnutrition or malaria. Applicants are being encouraged to develop digital appeal plans with an experimental approach. Many of our members have previously held successful UK Aid Match campaigns including: Mary’s Meals, SCIAF, WasteAid, The Halo Trust, Tearfund, and CBM.   

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