Charity donors of the future

We were delighted to welcome current and prospective charities clients to the wonderful Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle for the latest in our series of Conversations. Leading the discussion was Will Higham, an expert in predicting future consumer trends, who we had asked to consider how charities might appeal to the charity donors of the future.

Speech bubbles hanging from strings - Rathbone Investment Management

Will gave a mind-blowing talk to open the conversation. Afterwards, our guests said that he had transformed their understanding of the current youth generation and how their outlook, values and behaviour have been shaped by their experiences. It would be impossible to do justice to Will’s talk in just a few paragraphs, so I will touch on the highlights.

Consumer behaviour is always changing, but there are periods of more intense change around innovation. This applies to the present where the disruption from new technology is comparable to the invention of the printing press or the Industrial Revolution. The only safe prediction about the future is that ‘business as usual’ won’t cut it.

Will outlined seven trends in consumer behaviour that charities can anticipate. He calls the first ‘smart consumers’ as people now have access to huge amounts of data and will increasingly use technology to interpret it. This is a real challenge for charities, who are often far behind smaller companies in their digital skills – 20% can’t receive online donations.

Social media will be of increasing importance in establishing trust with consumers – an active social media profile for an organisation’s leader or CEO is a key way to increase trust and engagement.

Interaction with a charity must also be ‘friction free’. People expect convenience, so speed, choice and reliability are important. Web content must be easy to engage with. 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds actively reading a webpage – infographics are liked and shared three times more than other content. Perhaps surprisingly, email marketing is not considered a negative as consumers can engage with it at their own convenience.

‘Loitering with content’ identifies that the current youth generation is not anti-brand: 27% of 18-24 year olds’ social media time is now spent reading posts created by brands. Being knowledgeable is now cooler than in the 1990s (remember Britpop and new lads/ladettes, anyone?). Having facts to drop into conversation is cool, but it is also important to find things out and, most importantly, make up your own mind.

Will explained that today’s young people are one of the most interesting generations for decades – one of the most sober, serious or even anxious and concerned for others as well as themselves. Very different from the millennial generation that concluded from reality television, ‘X Factor-style’ talent shows and the early Internet that life was free and easy.

Following the recession, they are serious, hard-working and want to change things as they don’t trust the old ways. They have a high emotional IQ and don’t trust politicians or other worthies. Charities will have to be more human and not try to fit this generation into the current system. Their favoured organisational system is ‘collective autonomy’, where you do your own thing along with others who have similar interests.

This leads to a theme called ‘cloud computing’. Creation and autonomy are important, but curation is equally valued. “You should see this…” is an important form of community and Instagram and Pinterest are seen as creative media. Sharing and peer recommendation is driven by ‘trusting sideways’ not upwards. Think of TripAdviser. It is estimated that the UK sharing economy will be worth £9bn by 2025.

The challenge for charities will be to permit donors the autonomy to create, share and curate. Good recent examples are the ice bucket challenge and no make-up selfies – these only worked because the charities didn’t try to control the participants. Maybe some people didn’t make donations, but the overall impact of the campaigns on funding was still huge.

The last two themes were ‘be prepared’ and ‘speculate to innovate’. Charities must identify new technologies that could support their fundraising – an example is Amnesty International’s virtual reality headset to show passers-by the reality of atrocities in Syria. Such campaigns require a more innovative culture – it is necessary to try new things and to listen to younger staff members, who are also ‘smart’ and want more autonomy.

In the conversation after his talk, Will addressed a range of questions. Talking about the move away from Facebook by this younger generation, he explained that Twitter is still a good channel to establish a community of interest. Community is important to young people, particularly one which does not exclude people – as well as truth and justice, they believe in looking after others as well as oneself.

Community isn’t a new concept, but technology removes many boundaries. Crowd funding is an example of such community. Donors can be acknowledged and rewarded for reaching targets by getting friends and family to donate, and this can give them a sense of achievement.

Will joined us afterwards for drinks, which gave our guests a chance to network with others in the charities sector. The feedback on the event was very positive and we are grateful that our guests made an effort to make this conversation such a success.

If you would like to join one of our future Conversations or to receive a copy of Will’s presentation, please email Francesca Monti, including your charity and role.

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