Taking the Pulse of the Nation

Wave 46 (6-10 December 2021)

Australians are helping neighbours more but donating and volunteering less

A common query for most charities when soliciting donations is whether to pursue the thousand points of light or the steady beacon. There is no right answer. The thousand points of light refers to having lots of people give but only giving small amounts of money. An example of the many small donors approach would be at Christmas time (season for giving) when a charity member collects public donations in the street with a donation bucket. The symbol of the steady beacon would be a single donor that provides a large gift to an organisation that effectively covers much of the charity’s finances.  Both approaches come with risks and challenges. Most charities rely on the thousand points of light while also pursuing beacons.

In 2020, we explored how COVID-19 was impacting philanthropy through volunteering and helping others.  In the most recent Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey (TTPN, wave 46) we explore how Australians are helping others, volunteering, and donating.  As we approach Christmas, a critical period for most charities, how are Australians giving?

Australians have been helping their neighbours more compared to last year. Comparing our most recent TTPN data to past TTPN data from May 2020, the percentage of respondents who have helped a neighbour increased by close to 10 percentage points (from 30.8 percent - 40.5 percent) (Figure 1).

Compared to numbers from the 2016 Giving Australia Report however, Australians are less likely to donate to charities today.  In 2016, 81 percent of Australians donated.  In June/July 2021, between 57 and 63 percent of Australians donated to a charity.  This share has dropped to 51 percent during our “season of giving”. In 2016, 44 percent of Australians volunteered.  In June/July 2021, volunteer rates were approximately 23 percent. Today, the share who have volunteered recently has dropped further to 18.6 percent.

Overall, as observed before the pandemic, women are more likely to help in some way. They are more likely to help a neighbour (5.2 percent) and donate to a charity (4.6 percent) (Figure 2).

Young adults are giving and helping out more

The shining light is that younger Australians (18-24). Between July and December, younger Australian’s have increased helping others.  This is predominantly through an increase in helping a neighbour but also through an increase in donating money.  Those aged 25-34 have provided a steady level of giving and helping.  In contrast, especially with respect to the giving of money, those 35 and older have reported lower levels of giving.

Conditional on giving money, older Australians give more but the average level of reported giving has fallen between July and December.  Average giving has increased, however, for individuals under 54 and for women.  Less clear however, is whether greater giving by younger adults will replace the reduction in giving by older adults.

We should be concerned about the decline in giving and lending a helping hand. While younger adults are stepping up, will this be sufficient to help charities?  Given financial stress and mental distress remains high, charities are playing an ever-increasing role in service provision to those with a range of needs. Moreover, with lockdowns, mask-wearing, and social distancing, charities such as museums, theatres, and other arts organisations have suffered.

*The survey contains responses from 1200 persons, aged 18 years and over. The sample is stratified by gender, age and location to be representative of the Australian population.

**This report is written by Professor A. Abigail Payne, Melbourne Institute Director and Ronald Henderson Professor of Economics.

© The University of Melbourne – Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, 2021. This work is copyright. The material may be reproduced and distributed for non-commercial purposes only, subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source(s).