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Individual and small-scale giving

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Raising funds from individual giving, including direct marketing, community fundraising and employee donations.

The UK voluntary sector receives over £9m in donations and legacies from individuals, representing 16% of the sector’s total income. Individual giving is still an important source of income for voluntary organisations of all sizes, so it’s worth exploring whether it’s an appropriate income source for your organisation, if you haven’t already done so.

How do people give?

In the UK, almost half of individual donors give in cash, through:

  • gifts in pubs, shops, churches and club collections
  • face-to-face fundraising
  • tins in street collections
  • envelopes distributed door-to-door
  • sponsorships
  • fundraising events, such as jumble sales and gala dinners
  • one-off initiatives at special occasions.

But although cash gifts are the most popular way of giving, they generate only 18% of the total value of donations.

The largest gifts are made through non-cash methods, such as cheques, Direct Debit, and credit or debit cards. Sometimes called ‘planned giving’, such approaches involve more considered giving and usually bigger donations.

Who gives?

Almost all surveys of giving agree on the basic characteristics of people who give most often and most generously.

They tend to be:

  • middle class
  • middle aged
  • based in south-east England
  • women (especially if they have children).

Most charities target these people, and often distinguish they further by using demographic information such as:

  • whether they’re a suburban or city-dweller
  • whether they read broadsheets or tabloids
  • whether they lean right or left politically
  • their consumer and lifestyle patterns. 

Social networks and giving sites can also help you target donors, or create a donor community with a specific interest. It’s important to do your research to work out who is most likely to give to your cause, and who you’re able to connect with. This can help you use your resources more effectively, and establish long-term relationships with engaged supporters.

How to ask for donations

There are many ways to ask individuals for money. Some organisations use a range of methods, while others just one or two. It’s a good idea to evaluate the time and money you spend on each method to check how effective it is. Use the links below to find more information about each type of fundraising:

Fundraising events and challenges

Digital and mobile fundraising


Payroll giving

Local and community fundraising


Fundraising and marketing

Your fundraising efforts should be directly linked to your marketing plan. Fundraising is all about connecting with people, building relationships, and sharing your vision. It can take years before some donors actually give to you, but they might continue to give for many more years to come. It’s important to think about how you communicate with your donors – what are the most appropriate methods of communication, when is best to communicate with them, and what are they most likely to respond to.

Direct marketing, such as direct mail, newspaper inserts and face-to-face fundraising, is a common method of recruiting donors, but can be costly and have a low return rate. You can find out more about direct marketing in this video from the Institute of Fundraising.

Remember that all of your fundraising activities must comply with legislation and should follow good practice, as outlined in the Code of Fundraising practice.

Get more help

Page last edited Oct 14, 2019

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Section leaders

Ian Bruce