Many practitioners and academics (me included) spend a lot of time thinking about the reasons behind why people give money to charity. It's a fertile and important area of research as insights can help fundraisers dramatically improve their fundraising effectiveness. In that I'm hoping to publish my doctoral research this summer so watch this space.
In the meantime however as I interview charity supporters (and a few non-givers) I'm increasingly intrigued as to when and why people don't give. Claire Axelrad and I have been having an interesting debate in the Major Donor SIG pages about the importance of considering gender issues when crafting communications - written or verbal. I'm convinced that inappropriate messages are turning people off in an alarming manner. It's almost as if some people look for a reason not to give or to reject an ask. Look at the continued furore there is about street canvassing. It's even made it into Wikipedia.
However when you look at the research, as opposed to the urban myths some interesting observations become clearer. CAF report every year that around 60% of the adult population gave money to charity in the month prior to the survey. Cathy Pharaoh, who supervises the research maintains that this conspicuously underreports the actual percentage of people giving. Others consider that the American statistics of around 80% of the adult population as givers, are probably approached by the UK if we could get a more accurate measure. That is still however a very large number of adults not giving when Darwin (as opposed to Dawkins) reckons that we are all fundamentally altruistic animals.
What is not disputed is that giving across the population, as a percentage of GDP, has fallen very considerably over the last 100 years. In the last 20 years that I've been a fundraising practitioner and academic I see more charities asking for more money in more and more inappropriate ways. I still think compassion fatigue is a myth but I'm certain that, by our own poor practices, we are encouraging more people to say no.