How to give to charity without it costing you a penny

Disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit South East Asia in 2004 highlight aid organisations' ever-increasing need for donations.

But it seems shrinking personal budgets over recent months have forced many of us to give less to charity than we previously did – or give up donating altogether.

According to a survey carried out by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the total amount given to UK charities has dropped 11% during the recession, from £11.2 million in 2007/8 to £9.9 million in 2008/9.


But it's still possible to give to charity, even if you haven't a penny to your name – by fundraising. David Wood, a 28-year-old community fundraiser for the Meningitis Trust, has been raising money for charity since his schooldays.

His most recent adventure, a sponsored 'jailbreak', saw him travel as far as he could from Manchester without any money. David and a friend, Simon Painter, ended up flying to Africa on a cargo plane, and raised £1,587 for Kidscan, a children's cancer charity.

His other exploits include the 24-hour Three Peaks Challenge and trekking the Great Wall of China. David, from Gloucester, says: "I'm not a research scientist – but I can use what I'm good at to help others."

Tim Smith, a planning and performance manager at Tescos, agrees. The 35-year-old running enthusiast from Milton Keynes is happy for charities to use him as a human fundraising tool: "If a charity wants to use me, I say 'feel free'."

Last year he ran the Jungle Marathon in Brazil, touted as the most dangerous race in the world. He describes it as "the most scary but rewarding thing I've ever done". Enduring heat, swamps and snakes, he raised over £5,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign.

His next challenge is the 250km Marathon de Sables (Marathon of the Sands) across the Sahara desert in Morocco, where he hopes to raise another £20,000 for the charity.

Physical duress isn't everyone's cup of tea, though. Angela Davies, a part-time corporate responsibility officer for, arranged a 'Corporate Last Choir Standing' concert for companies in the Worcester area.

"Eight companies took part last year and we raised £10,000 for Leukemia Research," she says.

And 45-year-old Steve Rainbow, a fundraising manager for St Basils, helps organise the homeless charity's annual Sleep Out.

Now 20 years old, this was one of the first events to encourage members of the public to trade their comfy beds for a sponsored night sleeping rough.

How to organise a fundraising event

Of course all these activities require time, effort and dedication. So if you're thinking of organising a similar large-scale event be sure to plan ahead.

"Charity places for the London Marathon usually have to raise a minimum of £1,500, but you've got six months to raise the money after you get a place. Divide the £1,500 by six and you've only got to raise £250 a month, which is much more manageable," says David.

Don't forget to take into account costs such as food and drink. "This year we're asking different companies to sponsor different parts of the event," says Angela. Tim recommends asking suppliers to help with equipment costs, particularly if you're doing something sporty. 

But before you plunge into organising a big event, think about your target audience. A grand gala dinner might be very lucrative – but only if you know lots of wealthy philanthropists and celebrities.

If not, something as simple as a bucket collection can raise a lot too: David garnered £2,636 for a breast cancer charity just by shaking a bucket outside Bank tube station – the pink mini skirt he wore probably helped.

Raffles are another easy way of making some fast dosh –Angela and her team raised £3,000 through a raffle at their Last Choir Standing event. Ask local retailers, bars and restaurants if they can donate prizes.

The only drawback with these two fundraising methods is that you can't claim gift aid, as you can't possibly take everyone's contact details. Tax lecturer and writer Sam Hart explains: "For any donation to be gift-aided, you need to give a full name, address and some form of consent."

Collecting money on a winter's day or haggling for prizes for a raffle requires both determination and the ability to reach a wider number of people than just your family and friends.

Bryan Sergeant, founder of, has come up with an easier, more sociable way of raising money by encouraging fundraisers to hold dinner parties where the guests donate to charity.

You can create an event page and get people to donate directly through the website to one of 170,000 listed charities. And you don't have to worry about sorting out gift aid as the website will do it for you.

"A tiddly dinner raises about £20, but the best one raked in £650. An average dinner will raise about £100, so the charity gets £117 in total [including the 5% fee]" says Sergeant.

Marketing your event

If you're not sure which charity to choose, visit, or Contact your chosen charity to let it know your plans – it might be able to offer you some pointers or even publicise the event for you.

Getting in touch with the local media is another way of reaching out to potential sponsors or donors, and don't forget the value of social networking sites.

Chasing up sponsorship money can be a chore, but using a website such as, or should make things easier.

You can create your own fundraising page, whether you're undertaking a personal challenge, taking part in an organised event or organising your own. Friends can see what you're doing and learn more about the charity, as well as sponsor you and pay direct by card.

You can also send reminder emails and update your page. "It's easy to do and takes just 10 minutes," promises Virgin Money spokesperson Grant Bather.

The more information you provide the better, according to Alex Pashby, community manager at – and make sure you personalise your fundraising page. "Tell your story and explain why you're doing the event," he says.

Pashby also suggests showing what certain amounts of money can buy: "If someone is about to give a fiver and they see that an extra few pounds would buy something listed, they might donate the extra. It's all about making it real."

But remember to take into account the fees websites charge. charges 5% compared with, which charges 2%, while is free.

So for every £10 donation (once gift aid, fees, VAT and bank charges are added in), you'd get £12.64 from but £12.46 from and £11.93 from Many of these websites also charge charities for using them.

However, as managing director of, Anne–Marie Huby, points out, if a website is well-established you have the potential to reach many more people. "Many users report they receive donations from completely unknown donors," she says.

Take seven-year-old Charlie Simpson, who got massive media attention, thanks to his efforts to raise money for Haitian earthquake victims. Originally aiming to raise £500 by cycling 10 laps round his local park in Fulham, south London, he had raised £202,306 at the time of writing.

We might not all be able to raise such a grand amount of money, but Charlie's story should be an inspiration to us all to give – or do – that little bit extra.

What is gift aid and how does it work?

Gift aid allows charities to reclaim the basic rate of tax (20%) from any donations made by taxpayers. Until 5 April 2011 charities will also receive an additional 3p.

"When the basic rate was cut from 22% to 20%, charities found they were losing out, so the government rounds up what charities are getting," says Sam Hart, a tax lecturer and writer. In real terms this means for every £1 donated, charities can receive £1.28 through gift aid.

Because gift aid doesn't apply to the higher tax bracket, higher-rate taxpayers can claim a deduction on their self-assessment return equal to the remaining 20% tax.

Any donations are eligible for gift aid, provided you don't profit in any way from your gift, and give your consent and contact details.  

To donate gift aid through your income, complete the section on gift aid donations on your tax return. If you don't receive one, ask for a P810 tax review form, available from your tax office, or ask it to change your tax code.

You can also gift shares to a charity – whereas selling shares privately for a profit means you would have to pay capital gains tax, you don't have to pay this with gifting. "You're effectively asking the charity to sell the shares on your behalf and then you decide to gift them the proceeds," says Hart.

Other ways to give that won't cost you a penny

1. Use charity-friendly websites, for example, makes money through the number of clicks it gets and donates most of the proceeds.

By searching the website, setting up a fundraising page or shopping at certain retailers, you can earn money for one of 220,000 UK charities. Meanwhile, sells insurance products, giving up to £25 to a charity of your choice. 

2. Use Oxfam's comparison website

Early in 2010, Oxfam launched a new comparison website that ring fences at least two thirds of its entire revenue for the charity. Compare for Good allows customers to save money by comparing a range of financial products and services, while raising valuable funds for Oxfam. 

Ivan Massow, managing director of Compare for Good, says the website offers an opportunity to direct some of the profits from the lucrative comparison market to good causes - and create a sustainable channel of income for charity.

3. Volunteer your time

Use websites such as, and to search for local charities or projects.

4. Bequest money

Leaving money to good causes is tax-free, so you could save up to 40% of your inheritance tax bill.

Use a specialist website such as, which has a range of charities that will match your legacy.

5. Get a charity credit card

They only give a small percentage (25p for every £100) but if you use one regularly, even this could help. The Co-operative has a range cards for various charities; the charities receive £15 for each new account.

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Your Comments

Serious omissions - the hunger site ( where you can donate to charities just by clicking and free rice ( where playing a quiz will donate rice to famine relief.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned FREE RICE you go to the website and you answer questions - each question you get right they donate 10 grains of rice on your behalf. I've done it there's no registering no c.c no. required just answer the questions and you are donating for free.

Bmycharity is closing down it's services in the next few weeks.

It has been interesting seeing Richard Branson getting on the charity bandwagon given the administration fees other organisations were charging. Good old Richard

I read there were also sponsoring the London Marathon as a kind of launch of the business. Good luck to them I say, if more of your donation can actually reach the charity then that can do nothing but good.

Bmycharity has now joined the Help for Heroes charity and offers commission free fundraising online for any charity.  See



These are all really good ideas. It just shows that money can be given to charity just for carrying out our daily lives as long as we use their credit card etc.

It was very impressive those guys getting to Africa with no cash, I hope they had money to get back though!

Does everyone that pays tax know that it isn't just money donations that can be gift aided? Items taken to your local charity shop can be gift aided too so please take things- clothes, books, china etc to the charity shop and fill in the form.