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A different kind of donation: 18-30s and charity

A recent survey of more than 1,000 18- to 30-year-olds conducted by Populis revealed that most believe that giving to charity is more important than voting, which should bode well for the coffers of the needy, writes Neil Rycraft, partner at Zalpha.

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Charities, however, consistently find that this is the least represented age profile among their active donors. How is this the case?

You could argue that poor turn-out on polling days shows that clearly that no one is interested in voting, and so to register as being more interested in something else is hardly a great score. But there remains a great deal of goodwill among this age group that has yet to fully realise its potential in terms of cash giving.

A number of significant shifts have occurred over the last 50 years to provide a cultural landscape in which the 18-30s should be highly represented among active donors. The same research shows a reduction in faith in social institutions, such as the media and government.

Combine this with transparency of reporting on world news and the reduction of psychological and emotional distance from global events and you have an environment in which this age group understands that famine in Africa arises from a context that sends echoes rippling through our everyday lives, and one that not only are charities the most likely to engage with, but the only ones that can be increasingly trusted to do so.

To find the cause of and solution to the under-representation of this age group in donor profiles, many charities need to revise their acquisition and donation strategies.

Charities tend to favour certain media channels and donation packages that work well for other demographic groups, but not this particular sector. Charities tend to use TV, direct mail and face-to-face recruitment, all geared towards encouraging donors to commit to regular monthly donations.

Yet the 18-30s tend to be the most transitory and geographically mobile, meaning they are less likely to appear on data lists. They are also struggling with student debts and have less disposable income, making them more nervous about committing to regular donations.

This age group does, however, respond very well to other media. They respond most favourably to what can be viewed as low-investment, high engagement donor programmes, including participation in live events (such as the recent Oxfam Fair Trade concert), the purchase of co-branded products (such as music CDs), or fair trade fashion items (such as People Tree fair trade and eco-friendly garments, shoes, bags and jewellery).

The irony is that the traditional acquisition and donor strategies work well with the 50-plus female, who wears clothes from Marks & Spencers and shops at Tescos, and who will probably happily donate £5 a month via direct debit, which is worth an annual £60.

In contrast, the 28-year-old low-investment, high engagement donor, dressed head to foot in Fair Trade clothing, co-branded CD in hand, on the way to a live event where proceeds benefit a charitable cause, could have a potential annual value of £2,000 extended over a much longer lifetime period.

We are working with many charities, helping them to extend their fundraising strategies on the understanding that different channels recruit different donors, and also to create different donor products.

Other charities are working to build strategic alliances with manufacturers, industries and distribution channels to create charity or co-branded items or events that appeal to this age group. This in turn is altering the overall landscape in which charities operate.

It also means that, for charities, the future looks rich with possibility. With more than 200 registered charities in the UK competing for donations using strategies and images that can blur towards an overall sameness, perhaps what charities have been facing is not the oft-bemoaned compassion-fatigue at all.

Perhaps it is more honest to say that what we have seen is the result of ask-fatigue, and that people will donate readily and willingly if engaged in the right way.

Good news for charities, indeed.

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