We all know and accept that the world is in a state of constant change and evolution. For those of us who were born in the sixties, we learnt to use slide-rules  and log tables in maths, and computers were something we didn’t see until our teens. Since we were born we have seen human endeavour reach to the moon and the planets. We have the internet, miracle advances in medicine, more effective ways to grow food and technology advancing at a mind boggling rate. Access to data is such that each of use receives more information in a day than a citizen of the 1500’s would have to process in a lifetime. Our brains are becoming overwhelmed! And yet, the past two or three years seem unprecedented. We have lived or are living through the Covid pandemic, we have massive geopolitical challenges, including a major war in Europe for the first time in over 70 years. Climate change is being felt around the globe and people are challenging all of their previous notions and values about life, work, leisure and society in general.

So, sitting here in mid-2022, we can start to feel some of the effects of all of these things. Economically we can’t fail to notice that energy prices are skyrocketing, commodities have been the victim of supply and demand led inflation, food is more and more expensive and a global recession is lurking. Central banks seem to have little power to stave off a potential crisis, using the blunt tool of interest rates to try and stem what is largely supply led inflation, only to invite recession in through the door. Financial markets have taken a beating, whether it be equities, bonds, cryptocurrencies or other such instruments. That affects all of us, whether we are active or passive investors, have savings in the bank or are pensioners. Unlike the 1500’s, we all know about it, and we all think about it, and we all make decisions based on what we hear and how we (or others) interpret it. For most of us, the bottom line is that we have less discretionary money to spend.

The charity sector is essentially reliant on individuals and corporates who “want to make a difference”. But for donors, this is still classed as discretionary spending. As inflation pushes higher than incomes, as is the case now in many instances, then “making a difference” starts to compete more and more with going to restaurants, clubs and bars; holidays, a new car, decorating the house etc. How do we in the charity sector ensure that our donor base remains high and expands, continues to give at the same rate or more and does not move to other outlets for their squeezed funds? The Sparkle Foundation is a small charity operating in Malawi, but with a global base of donors, both individuals and companies. For us, understanding the geography of the sector and the dynamics that are in play is essential. If we get it wrong then we will not be able to serve those communities that rely on us to the same extent, and that is literally life threatening.

Although we raise money across the world, we still see the majority of our funding coming from the UK, hence much of our intelligence is derived from there. Figures in other countries will change, especially those where there are significant cultural or economic differences, but underlying trends are likely to be applicable elsewhere. Holistically we still see the donating community at a high level with 74% of the public continuing to give, against an inflation figure of about 9%. This number however, peaked at the beginning of this year at 78%, so some softening. However, we do have the Ukrainian crisis ongoing and of course this has been on the TV and front pages of the news since it began, and we believe may be responsible for these continuing high numbers. In terms of broad based giving then Generation Z and Millennials come out on top, with older people having a more focussed approach, probably based on a historical preference for certain causes. Corporates are also continuing to give, although their cause loyalty is somewhat lower than individuals. Whilst corporates are driven by similar reasons to individuals, they are places for people after all, they are also driven by Social Responsibility Programmes. This relates to being a good “Corporate Citizen”, providing opportunities for employees, customer sentiment and having the maximum ability to access external funding and attract shareholders. Green and ethical funds are capturing a larger section of the financial sector and corporates need to ensure they can match with them.

Whilst the donor base does seem to be robust thus far, there has been a definite change in areas of support. Charities related to health, animals, children, disease research and mental health are gaining in popularity, and of course across Europe and North America, then Ukraine facing charities are taking a large share. This has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, with people seeing Ukraine as a top priority. The economic situation has also seen a drop in the number of people making a regular monthly donation from 31% in the autumn of 2021 to 27% today. So more “one off’s” and fewer monthly’s. Again, we suspect driven by the economics, fewer people are feeling positive about the charity sector with the number moving from 33% in summer 2021 to 29% today, (although 91% are positive or neutral).

So what does this all mean, and what can we do to ensure that we get a share of that pot? Of course we need to have a meaningful and important story to tell. We need to ensure that funds reach those who need it and not pay for an over-expensive organisation and act with the highest of ethics, we need to communicate and engage with donors and potential donors creating “brand loyalty”, and we need to ensure that it is easy to donate and remove barriers. We can do this in many ways, but creating corporate partnerships with a win-win ethos is a major step forward. Provide easy online routes of giving, (this already accounts for 45% of all giving). Increase their social media presence and look to have focussed campaigns and “join in” events, as well as maximise any grant opportunities.

At The Sparkle Foundation, we have been looking at and implementing all of these ideas. We recognise that we are in an ever competitive world, and many charities will not be here for the long term: many are already suffering financial difficulties exacerbated by the Covid crisis. So what do we actually do? The Sparkle Foundation was started several years ago by Sarah Brook, after suffering a life threatening illness whilst visiting. The help of local people and medical teams with limited facilities saved her life, and from thereon she was determined to give back to the community that did so much for her. Malawi is a small landlocked country in South Eastern Africa. With a topography defined by the Great Rift Valley, highlands and Lake Malawi it is a beautiful country. With 20 million people and 12 ethnic groups it is diverse, but the people are friendly, typified by its nickname as “the warm heart of Africa”. With a GDP per head of a few hundred dollars it is one of the world’s least developed countries, with subsistence agriculture. Life expectancy is low and there is high infant mortality. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition are frequent causes of death. Sparkle has two sites in southern Malawi, close to the regional capital of Zomba. Our philosophy is one of enabling people to improve their life chances. This is done through a number of pillars of activity. At our sites we take the most vulnerable children and provide a Montessori based education to pre-school children, which improves their outcomes whilst in main-stream education, and also increases the chances that their parent(s) will actually send them to the school. We also provide nutrition to those children with two nutrition rich meals per day, and have an onsite medical centre able to diagnose disease and treat many of the basic medical needs. If hospital care is needed we have an ambulance at our sites. In the local community we give support for a variety of things, from improving agricultural techniques (we are currently establishing our own farm), providing youth group activities, teaching about good hygiene and nutrition, and business skills to enable people to establish businesses and provide for themselves. What we do is vital to this community and we are seen by the community as an essential part of it: we work in partnership.

For us the future is exciting as we strive to grow and help more people and communities in Africa. Retaining and growing our funding is essential and we are prepared to meet the challenges ahead. If you feel ready to help with this journey, come and join us………….

Find out more about The Sparkle Foundation here.

 

Dr Neville Prior

Neville is by education a PhD chemist, but today is Chairman of a global chemical business, operating across three continents. He has a wife and two grown up children and lives in the English countryside in a 500 year old house, which is a project in itself. He is passionate about The Sparkle Foundation and the work it does, is Chairman of the Trustees and has visited Malawi a number of time, going back there again in November of this year. His hobbies include playing saxophone and supporting one of his daughters who has a career as an international showjumper.

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