Red Nose Day leads the way for future giving

20 March 2011

More than 10 per cent of the UK population supports Red Nose Day. “Such huge support for needy causes shows just what can be achieved when the media, celebrities and new technologies are mobilised behind an appeal”, says Professor Cathy Pharaoh, co-director of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Office for Civil Society, Carnegie UK Trust and Scottish Government.

The Comic Relief appeal achieves a remarkable amount of support with around six million people buying red noses. Donations to this cause have increased five-fold between 1988 when the first Red Nose Day appeal raised £15 million to the £82 million raised on Red Nose Day in 2009.

“A huge amount can clearly be achieved when a belief in giving, a high profile branding and the best use of technology are brought together in a powerful way,” she says. “However, our research shows that major appeals like Red Nose Day do not contribute to raising the proportion of our spending we give to charity over time. The challenge therefore is to capture the enthusiasm of a Red Nose Day so that we can all remain engaged in building a bigger Big Society every day.”

Findings from the research report, 'The new state of donation: Three decades of household giving to charity, 1978 – 2008' reveal that only 28 per cent of households donate to charity compared to 32 per cent in 1978. While the average size of donations has increased over this period, the rise in giving over the past two decades has only broadly been in line with Gross Domestic Product growth. As a share of their total spending, households today give 0.4 per cent - the same as in 1988.

“People love to take part in the Comic Relief appeal,” Professor Pharaoh comments. “It would be fantastic if this momentum and enthusiasm could be captured and capitalised upon by charities throughout the year and converted into regular charity support. As our research highlights, charities now face an enormous challenge in raising levels of charitable giving.”

“Some 410 artists contributed their time to Red Nose Day in 2009,” Professor Pharaoh continues. “Celebrity involvement as well as the huge amount of free publicity provided by the media and the endorsement offered by government, institutions and businesses shows how much can be achieved when the full force of high profile public influencers is applied to a charity appeal”.

Young people’s support for Comic Relief is one of the most encouraging aspects of the appeal. Comic Relief reports that 20,000 schools and Early Years projects took part in 2009. “A new generation of donors was also represented in the 930,000 who gave small amounts through texting,” Professor Pharaoh points out. “Given the general reluctance of the younger generation to give generously, which our research shows, then the interest and enthusiasm among children sparked by Comic Relief is of course encouraging,” Professor Pharaoh states.

Research further indicates an increasing reliance on the older generation to donate generously. Over 65s now account for 35 per cent of all donations, compared to 25 per cent in 1978. Participation and donations have grown among older age groups, contrasting with falling participation over the whole period within almost every other age-band.

For further information contact:

  • Professor Catherina Pharaoh
    Telephone: 020 7040 5185

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. This release includes research published in February 2011, ‘The new state of donation: Three decades of household giving to charity, 1978 – 2008’. The research was carried out by CGAP. The Centre has been jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Office for Civil Society, Carnegie UK Trust and Scottish Government.

  2. Professor Catherina Pharaoh is Co-Director with Professor Jenny Harrow for the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (external website).

  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

  4. The Minister for Civil Society is Nick Hurd and he is responsible for the Big Society agenda, the National Citizens Service, Charities, Volunteering, Social Enterprise and the Cabinet Office interest in devolution. The Office for Civil Society was created in May 2010 and replaced the Office of the Third Sector.

  5. Carnegie UK Trust (external website) is one of over twenty foundations worldwide set up by Scots American Andrew Carnegie, working to support a more just, democratic, peaceful and sustainable world. The Trust supports independent commissions of inquiry into areas of public concern, together with action and research programmes.

  6. The devolved Government for Scotland (external website) is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport. It manages an annual budget of more than £30 billion in 2007-2008. The Government was known as the Scottish Executive when it was established in 1999 following the first elections to the Scottish Parliament. The current administration was formed after elections in May 2007.