Spoke 2 at ARNOVA

Nov 27, 2012 | Category: CGAP News

CGAP researchers from Spoke 2 were active in the recent ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action) conference in Indianapolis. They presented the bulk of the work reported in a session on “Charity and social redistribution: reflections from recent British research”.

John Mohan introduced the session by reflecting on John Stuart Mill's aphorism that "charity almost always does too much or too little; it lavishes its bounty in one place and leaves people to starve in another". However, there are considerable challenges involved in testing Mill’s ideas, because of the difficulty in working out which charitable organisations are active in, or allocating resources to, particular communities. Information which can be used includes data on the areas of benefit of charities, some of which might appear now to be anachronistic historical curiosities, their area of operation as reported to the Charity Commission, and survey data on the scale at which charities operate. Administrative databases, such as the Government’s Business Structure Database, can also be used to give at least a regional breakdown of activity.

The following papers took three different approaches to the theme of whether or not charitable organisations and resources are distributed in relation to patterns of need. David Clifford, from the Third Sector Research Centre, presented a paper drawing on the massive panel dataset of registered charities’ finances for the period 1995 onwards, developed jointly by TSRC and CGAP. This is a unique resource for exploring trends in the resources and distribution of registered charities – the dataset now contains some 2 million observations, where one observation refers to one set of financial results reported by an individual charity. Looking at 80 000 charities which appear continuously in the data, and which report that they operate within an individual local authority, Clifford showed that the likelihood of survival of organisations over time varied greatly, but was particularly strongly related to socioeconomic conditions in localities: the more disadvantaged the locality, the stronger the likelihood that the charity had failed to survive.

In a joint paper, David Clifford and John Mohan used large-scale survey data from the 2008 National Survey of Third Sector Organisations (NSTSO; the survey obtained 48 000 responses, most of which were from registered charities) to illustrate the very real geographical differences across England in the prevalence of charitable organisations working at a neighbourhood scale. Overall, less deprived local areas have a much higher prevalence than more deprived local areas. While certain kinds of organisations are more prevalent in more deprived areas, including those working in the field of economic well-being, this reflects the presence of organisations which receive public funds. Other characteristics of these neighbourhood-level organisations were explored, including evidence of a consistent tendency for the organisations operating in the most prosperous neighbourhoods to focus on causes related to education, culture and the arts, which suggests that neighbourhood-level organisations tend to work at the “nice to have” rather than “need to have” end of the charitable spectrum.

Rose Lindsey’s study of the local ecology of charitable activity built on this. Her work has used both quantitative and qualitative studies on the funding base of charities and the local detail of flows of funds into particular communities, in order to explore the distribution of charitable resources, both geographically and over time. She drew on a large number of interviews undertaken with charity personnel and local stakeholders in two contrasting communities in southern England. This work demonstrated that in the more prosperous of her two communities, registered charities were very effective at recycling resources (both financial, and the inputs of volunteers) generated by their community within their community. In contrast, in a nearby community which by national standards was relatively deprived, such charities as existed in the area – and there were considerably fewer, on a population basis – drew heavily on external sources of income (mostly public money) and relied heavily on the professional input of full-time employees to keep basic services going. Without that input doubts were expressed as to whether the community itself, characterised by high levels of social deprivation which were imposing considerable pressures on households, would be able to maintain, let alone expand, the services that were present. Yet those services were widely perceived as responding to critical social needs.

In their different ways, therefore, the papers demonstrated the considerable variations that exist between communities in their charitable inheritance. Regardless of the methods used in the papers, the evidence presented at the conference was are consistent with Mill’s aphorism and with later academic judgements, such as Lester Salamon’s view of “philanthropic insufficiency”: the inability of charitable fundraising to achieve a consistent allocation of resources to the most needy areas and communities. To the extent that the evidence implies real variations in capacity, the challenge it poses for proponents of a greater role for charity in meeting social needs is a simple one: how can charitable resources best be steered in such a way as to maximise their redistributive effect?

Beth Breeze gave two papers conference. One presented her CGAP-funded work on re-examining corporate philanthropy from the shop floor perspective and the other was part of an international panel exploring the issues in measuring charitable giving.

Corporate philanthropy on the shop floor: what drives employee fundraising? (pdf)

Gauges of Giving: The UK Million Pound Donor Report (pdf)

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