In what was for many not the greatest of years, a notable high point of 2016 for me was Arts Council England’s renewed commissioning of a major survey to track private investment in the arts. Arts & Business had previously carried out this research, but it stopped in 2011/12. The new survey by consultancy MTM estimated that in 2014/15 the total donated by individuals to arts and museums in England was £245 million.
In the limbo years when data was not being collected by arts organisations, other research was still being conducted on overall levels of giving in the UK. The Charities Aid Foundation publishes an overview of charitable giving in the UK. The most recent edition, UK Giving 2015, was published in May last year. Its methodology is different: instead of asking the recipients how much they received, it samples the UK population and asks respondents how much they gave and to what types of causes.
According to UK Giving 2015, a massive £9.6 billion was given by the UK population to charitable causes in 2015. Of that amount, the Charities Aid Foundation estimates that just 0.3% was given to arts charities. According to my slide rule, this equates to only £28.8 million.
So CAF estimates £28.8 million for the UK as a whole, while ACE says £245 million just for England. Who is right?
I think the ACE figure is far closer to the truth. Samples will always be open to margins of error, but when we look at hard statistical evidence based on an entire population, it’s clear that £28.8 million is an underestimate: across ACE’s national portfolio organisations, the actual figure reported in 2014/15 for individual giving was £94 million. MTM also seems to have done a robust job of extrapolating its estimated figures by banding arts organisations that did and did not respond to its survey. The Arts Council’s £245 million could well be close to the actual figure.
So why is the CAF estimate so much lower? Via respected market research company NOP, it interviewed 4,160 respondents face-to-face. This is a big sample, so we’d normally expect the results to be accurate. My guess is that there are several issues at play here, but the biggest is that a large proportion of that £245 million is in the form of big gifts by a tiny fraction of the UK population. This cohort is so small in that its members are unlikely to be represented in a sample of 4,160 people.
While we can’t use the CAF figures to give us an accurate figure for total individual giving in the UK, what it does provide is a robust picture of the proportionate charitable giving to different sectors by a representative sample of the UK population. What’s more, as there is an annual US publication using a very similar methodology – Giving USA 2015, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy – we can do an international comparison.
Giving USA estimates that giving by individuals (living and recently deceased via bequests) is about $299 billion (£239 billion). That works out at about $936 (£747) per person in the US. UK Giving’s reported figure of £9.6 billion ($12 billion) equates to about £150 ($188) per person. We’ve already established that UK Giving appears to be seriously under-reporting for the arts, but as these two studies share a common methodology, it is not unreasonable to assume levels of individual giving are six times higher in the US.
And who are the recipients in the US? The biggest beneficiary by far in the US is religion, receiving almost one in every three dollars. Next up is education, with 15% followed by human services (including food banks, homeless shelters, youth services and sports) on 12%. Not far behind in fifth place is arts, culture and humanities, with a 5% share of that $299 billion pot.
The picture in the UK is very different, where 28% of giving goes to health and medical research. Religion and children follow on 13% each, with overseas aid not far behind on 11%. The figures confirm we are a nation of animal lovers, at least compared with the US. Of individual giving in the UK, 10% goes to animals and the environment compared with just 3% in the US.
At the very bottom of all 14 named categories in the UK comes the arts on just 0.3%, compared with the 5% estimated in Giving USA 2015. Looking at previous data from both reports, in the past 10 years the arts have always accounted for a tiny proportion of individual giving income in the UK, whereas in the United States it has consistently been 4-5% of the total.
There are big differences in the overall trends for individual giving in the US and UK. In cash terms (not accounting for inflation), individuals in the UK seem to be donating about £1 billion less than they were 10 years ago. In the US, following a very bad two-year period after 2008, individual giving quickly returned to pre-crash levels in cash and real terms and continues to grow.
MTM’s excellent report for ACE highlights the fact that English arts organisations have improved their skills at tapping a very small number of high-net-worth individuals. The UK Giving report clearly shows there is much more to be done to create an environment in which giving to the arts is a norm for a significant proportion of the population.
With a long-term decline in public funding for the arts in the UK and rising individual giving in the US, how much longer will we feel we have the superior model to support high-quality art on this side of the Atlantic?