Fundraisers need to get to grips with the information-hungry, proactive army of the “mass affluent” due to retire in the coming decades, says Dan Corry
What will funders of the future look like? It’s hard enough to summon up an image of an average charity donor today, let alone start peering into a crystal ball.
Fundraisers have to keep in mind a whole range of different givers and ways of giving: the professional with a long-established direct debit; the marathon runner with a succession of personal causes and JustGiving pages; the retiree preparing her will. Throw in a few people caught in the chuggers’ nets, and some one-off respondents to international emergency appeals, and it’s already a complex and varied picture.
So, it’s a difficult area in which to predict the future; but it’s vital that we try.
The baby-boomers have enjoyed the best of times – indeed, if you believe some commentators, they have been spoiled rotten to the detriment of the rest of us. Of course, sizeable parts of the older population are in difficult or even dire straights, but in general the generation that started retiring in around 2010, and will continue to do so until 2030, is healthy, wealthier and more successful than any cohort of pensioners we’ve seen before. Large numbers have lived very successful professional lives and many are leaving work with high hopes of contributing to society in dynamic ways, long after the salary cheques have stopped.
It seems like a dream scenario for charities: hundreds of thousands of retirees with ambition and disposable income. To make the dream come true, however, approaches to fundraising will surely need to change.
This group is unlikely, in the main, to respond to the established set-up where a funder gives away their cash and trusts the chosen charity to spend it wisely. That sort of deference towards charities is probably on the way out.
As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing paper A better ask reported last year, donors will be demanding a new, far less static relationship. Charities may already be familiar with the need to jump to attention when large funders and trusts come knocking, but soon they may need to be similarly responsive to the army of the “mass affluent” who expect much greater involvement in return for their regular direct debit.
The baby-boomers may also turn out to be more energised by specific ideas and projects than by a bold charity brand. “More and more, people don’t sign up to a charity”, as one fundraiser explains, “so much as to an issue”.
If this trend is already visible, it’s fair to assume that charities will be faced with increasing numbers of smart givers, who want detailed information (and even input) into topics that are close to their hearts. This could be good news – more attentive donors can help drive charities to focus more on their impact in tackling social problems, especially if they know that donors might vote with their bank accounts and find another way to fund what they care about.
Really far-sighted charities, meanwhile, might already be teaming up older and younger staff and volunteers, nudging each towards learning from the other (including in fundraising departments). Even small steps such as this can make sure that charities don’t go into the next decades blind to the needs and expectations of the new generation of supporters.
We know that the private sector is looking ahead. Companies know they may thrive or struggle depending on changing demographics. Who will be designing and making new products, for example, and who will be buying them? The public sector is getting to grips with it too, if more slowly: an ageing population will affect everything the State does, from the supply of teachers and doctors to transport policy and tax revenues.
This isn’t the time for the voluntary sector to get left behind. We can’t know for sure what the donors of the future will look like, but we can take a pretty good guess.