Fundraising with the public

Charities are only able to make the difference they do thanks to the fundraising and support of the public.

People in the UK are very generous, donating billions of pounds to charities each year. This has helped create what is almost certainly the strongest and most effective charity sector of any country in the world.

Most people give to a charity when they are prompted to in some way – whether that’s through direct contact with a charity, or through friends or family who are raising money on its behalf. Charities need to invest some of their money in fundraising order to support this. But they get back much more than they invest.

What are the different ways charities raise money with the public?

There are a number of ways that charities fundraise with the public. Charities often try to raise money from a variety of sources so they’re protected against drops in income from any one source. Most fundraising falls into one of two main categories: donations or trading.


This includes one-off donations people make to charities, regular direct debits, sponsorship for events like marathons, and legacies – the money left to charities by people in their wills.


Some charities sell goods or services to raise money. This could be from doing things that are part of their mission, such as a theatre charity selling theatre tickets, or when you buy a National Trust membership.

Or, increasingly, many charities are running their own businesses that donate all their profits back to the charity. For example, the RSPB runs a business that sells bird food, bird boxes and binoculars. This is a way of ensuring they have a sustainable source of income for the long term.

How much money do charities raise from the public?

Income from the public to charities was around £22.3bn in 2015/16:

  • £10.9bn from public fundraising
  • £11.4bn from trading with the public.

The level of donations has remained broadly static in recent years, while income from trading has grown.

How much do charities spend on fundraising?

Charities spend different amounts on fundraising. Nearly all charities need to spend some money on fundraising in order to raise money for their causes.

Very few people give to a charity without a prompt of some kind: a personal request from a friend or family member, or after seeing an advert or appeal. So if charities didn’t ask, they wouldn’t raise any income.

On average charities raise about £4 for every £1 they spend on fundraising. But this will vary between charities, depending on things like how popular a cause is. If a fundraising method wasn’t efficient for a charity, they wouldn’t do it.

Charities always need to strike a balance. If they didn’t spend some of their money on fundraising, they wouldn’t be finding the new supporters who will help them continue their work.

Concerns about fundraising

Charities take concerns about fundraising very seriously, and they have to follow strict fundraising rules.

The Fundraising Regulator, which was set up following a review in 2015, ensures that charities follow a clear code of practice and can take action against them if they do not.

If you have concerns about how a charity is fundraising, you should raise it with the charity itself first. Charities will not want you to have a bad experience of their fundraising and will be keen to put things right. However, if you aren’t satisfied with their response, you can raise your concern with the Fundraising Regulator.

Read more:

How charities are addressing concerns about fundraising


Charity finance data

All the charity finance figures used on this website are derived from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ UK Civil Society Almanac. Read more about the data.