I love statistics. After a career spent in the hazy shade of subjectivity, studying statistics was a revelation. There are no 50 shades of grey in statistics. But after two years of dispiriting stats and a summer of disruption that felt like an endless game of ‘Dodge the virus, find the RAT’, the statistical fillip we all needed arrived in my inbox.
Giving in Australia could soon return to pre-pandemic levels. According to the JBWere NAB Charitable Giving Index Report: A timely examination of giving in Australia, a significant recovery is underway.
That recovery will be something to behold if we’re to get back to those halcyon days. Total charity income from donations and bequests grew by $4.2 billion from 2014 to 2019, before waves of coronavirus resulted in a forecast $2 billion in lost income for 2020 and 2021.
As I delved deeper into the report, I was struck by state differences. Tasmania and ACT are back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, Tasmania was not hugely affected by the pandemic at all, joining Queensland as the only two states to show little decline in giving levels. Out west, South Australia and Western Australia lag in their recovery.
“How odd,” I thought as I commuted the 15 steps from desk to kitchen and the awaiting post-work beverage.
Fortress WA, as the media dubbed my home state, barely had any COVID-19 cases, and did not endure the lockdowns that marred the lives and livelihoods of millions of Australians in other states. Is it a coincidence that WA borders and wallets remain closed? But as any statistician will tell you, correlation does not imply causation.
While statistics help us make sense of the whole – since the 18th century nations have used statistics to tell us who we (collectively) are and whether things are getting better or worse – they do not tell us the why.
In a post-truth era where feelings trump facts, this has led to suspicion and repudiation of statistics. Stats are of course open to interpretation and can be taken out of context. A timely example is the statistical fact that there are more vaccinated than unvaccinated people with COVID-19 in hospital in NSW and Victoria. That doesn’t mean vaccines don’t work. It’s a reflection of the fact most people are vaccinated.
We don’t know why WA and SA are not recovering as speedily as the rest of Australia. I’m sure people who live in those states might have theories, but we need more data to interpret the data. No doubt it is out there, collected as we swipe and like, but that data is in private hands, for now.
In the meantime, as fundraisers you are well versed in the arguments for feelings over facts and you know both have an important place. And this fact gives rise to some good feelings.