More than 32 per cent of the British population gave nothing to charity last year, research published on Wednesday suggests. But the study, by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), found that people who do make donations are giving more.
Charitable donations totalled £5.76bn in Britain last year, the highest level in real terms since 1993. The findings suggest a shift away from Britain's traditional, spontaneous "spare change" giving towards the planned donations favoured in America.
The Treasury, which is seeking to encourage a culture of "planned giving", is offering tax concessions to charities on donations made through company payrolls or direct debit payments.
Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the NCVO, said: "It is very encouraging to see such a recovery in the total amount donated to charity ... We must work harder to encourage a return to the very high levels of public participation in charitable giving which Britain enjoyed in the early 1990s."
The NCVO pointed out that 80 per cent of people were making charitable donations as recently as 1994.
The most popular causes for charity gifts made last year were children and young people (16.1 per cent of money given), medical research (15.9 per cent) and religious organisations (14.4 per cent). The most popular method of giving was street collection, which was used by 24.1 per cent of donors but only generated 3.2 per cent of total money collected. Covenants, used by just 4.4 per cent of donors, made up 14.9 per cent of donations.
The study, by the NOP research group, was based on interviews with 1,000 people each quarter and revealed the average monthly donation was £10.35, up from £9.76 last year. People aged between 25 and 64 were more likely to be donors, and their average donation was higher compared with the youngest group (aged 16 to 24) and the oldest, the over-65s. Women were shown to give more than men.
Karen Wright, a researcher at the London School of Economics, said the "spare change" culture dated back to the 19th century. She said: "One of the things distinctive about Britain, if you look at it in comparison to other countries, is that there are lots of people who give but they give in small amounts."
Rich people in Britain give proportionately less to charity than poor people. Ms Wright said that 25 per cent of British professionals and managers made only spare change donations and a further 25 per cent gave nothing. Just 2 per cent of Britons give through their company payroll, compared with 34 per cent of Americans.
Peter Gilheany, spokesman for the Giving Campaign, an independent organisation that encourages charitable giving, said: "The findings of this study show that charities are maturing their existing donors but there needs to be extra encouragement."