Young donors: generational giving deficit or engagement deficit?

The recent University of Bristol/CAF report ‘Mind the Gap’ raises interesting questions on whether current 18-30 year olds are significantly less likely to give to charity than previous generations. At first sight, the figures are compelling: in 2010 32% of over 60s had given in the last fortnight, but only 16% of under 30s had. This compared to 29% and 23% for the two age groups in 1980. More than half of all donations to charity now come from the over 60s, compared to 35% thirty years ago.

So we’re it appears facing a fundamental generational shift in giving behaviour. Or are we?

Whilst the research provides some fascinating data on giving patterns by age, I think it’s too early to draw conclusions that current 18-30 year olds are less philanthropic than their predecessors. What we could be seeing is the impact of socio-economic factors on young people, and a need for us as fundraisers to learn to engage them more effectively.

If you’re 18-30 today you’re facing probably the grimmest outlook of any generation since the 1930s. This recession is disproportionately impacting on young people – they have higher student debt, less chance of getting a job, higher housing costs and more restricted access to credit than any recent generation. And unlike the recessions of the 70s and 80s this one is impacting on all social classes, including the classic ABC1 young charity donors. Ask any Fundraising Director about the volume and quality of applicants they’re seeing for Fundraising intern or entry level jobs. There are a lot of unemployed young graduates out there.

And 18-30 year olds are different in other ways. Their attention span is short. Very short. They have been brought up as individuals, suspicious of institutions. They live their lives publicly online through social media. But this doesn’t mean they don’t care about issues. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to get involved.  They can be a hugely powerful force if Fundraisers understand how to engage them.

My own charity, Anthony Nolan, is seeing this at first hand. 21-30 year olds’ response rate to our regular giving telemarketing campaign to people on the bone marrow register is significantly higher than that of the 60+ age group, and well above benchmark response rates.  Our volunteer student arm, Marrow, recruited over 9,000 potential bone marrow donors last year and raised over £90,000.

So are we facing a donation deficit? I’m not sure we are, but I do think as Fundraisers we need to think differently about how we communicate with and engage younger donors.

That means giving them easy initial ways to get involved like raising awareness or campaigning via social media, and building the relationship from there. Making it easier to give via the technology that drives their lives: text giving and potentially regular giving via mobile. And developing and delivering content that works for them: mobile/tablet optimized websites are essential for engaging younger donors, as is clear, impactful and emotive video content.

Generation Y are as different to the Baby Boomers as the post-War generation were to Dorothy Donor. As ever, our role as Fundraisers is to adjust to their needs and give them to opportunity to use their time, money and influence to make a difference to the issues they care about.

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