But this isn't the whole story. We are a charitable nation. Just look at the huge amounts we give every year to funds like Comic Relief, or how generously we respond to disaster relief appeals. Or the explosion in fundraising sites like JustGiving. We're happy to give to a worthy cause. What's changing, more often than not, is in the way we choose to donate.
Let's look again at Comic Relief and disaster relief funds like DEC. The one thing they have in common is how easy they make it for people to donate. When it becomes as simple as dropping a text to give a fiver to your favourite cause, the excuses not to put your hand in your pocket start to disappear.
Using PayPal or phone apps has another advantage: they erase the barrier between your wallet or purse and the purchase. Consider: when you have to dig about for loose change or pull out your cash roll, you have the opportunity to think about what you're doing. Every second spent on fetching money is a moment when you could think 'actually, no, I don't want to do that.' This is not what fundraisers want to happen. Why do you think so many TV ads end with the words 'do it now'? Don't think, just give.
These are common retail lessons that many charities seem unable, or unwilling to learn. But it seems foolish when it could make the difference between sink or swim for them. It seems crazy, when so many of us live on our phones, that charities are not taking advantage of new fundraising opportunities.
Paul De Gregario, head of mobile at Open Fundraising, an agency that works with some of the biggest charities out there, makes the point loud and clear:
The story behind the charity, meanwhile, can be as important as the method by which we donate to them. The growth in vignettes that Comic Relief does so well, those mini-stories that focus on the people behind the appeals, bring the reason to donate home to people. Using YouTube and video apps to tug at the heartstrings, with a clickable link to a donation site at the right moment, is a powerful way to get the public donating. None of it is tricky to do. All it needs is a board of trustees willing to take a punt on new methods.
We need to make the act of giving as frictionless as possible. The future of fundraising and technology is firmly embedded in our phones and how we use them.”
And this is just the start. Gamification of charitable donation could be the next big thing. The news this week has been full of stories about the newest Pokemon game, which gets people out on the streets to catch their favourite beasties using Augmented Reality. Imagine a situation where you could do the same with a charity game, winning prizes that drop micro-donations to a chosen charity. It's proven that gamers are more than happy to spend real money on virtual wares. Why shouldn't a tiny percentage of that cash go towards good causes?
Our View: It's an exciting time to be working on new methods of charity giving. A little imagination and the willingness to make the process a fun one could level, or even reverse the plunge in donation levels.