The stakes are high: if they fail, they will run out of funding
Charities are running on fumes. Baby boomers are exiting the economy, and the younger generations don’t give the way their parents and grandparents did. Unless they change their ways, Charities will run out money over the next few years. You can take that to the bank.
This is terrible news for reactionary, slow-to-change incumbents. But it is great news for savvy, insurgent charities who are given a once-in-a-generation chance to shoot past the crusty incumbents and address what is probably the most untapped resource on the planet right now: the disposable cash of a generous, purpose-driven generation.
The Kids are Alright
Never before have people cared so much about the world. Never have so many people been so informed and conscious of the impact they have on the planet. The current’s generation’s top 3 priorities are all related to social and environmental impact. That car and that house and that rolex that their parents aspired to? Lame. These guys count their wealth in social and environmental impact.
But then, why are they not giving money to charity? The bedrock of impact delivery for generations. Could it be that the history’s most purpose-driven generation is less generous than their parents’ generation? I think not.
Young people don’t go to the store like their parents do. They don’t want jobs like their parents did. No bank manager or even bank. They don’t date like their parents do, don’t go to the movies like their parents do and they sure don’t consume information like their parents did.
So why would anyone expect them to give to charity like their parents did? Send a check, take if off the tax, get some nice pictures a few times a year and feel good about it all, while you go about your life.
The whole thing kind of sucks, doesn’t it?
But care they do. And generous they are. So here are 10 things that Charities need to do to appeal to this generation:
1. Don’t Patronize your Donors
The guy at the rental store did it. The bank manager did it. The sales guy at the dealership did it. They all got driven out of the market. Traditional charities continue to do it : they are patronizing their donor. They continue to lead with tear-jerking narratives mixed up with fake simplicity: 20 cents to save a life. ! dollar is all it takes. These guys actually get it. It costs more than 1 dollar to save a life. What charities should do instead is open up the whole complexity to their donors. Share the challenges with them, the failures. Make them part of your journey.
2. Encourage Your donors to Action
Young people need to feel engaged. The idea of “signing a check” (what is a check anyway?) is completely unappealing. People don’t sign checks! They have causes they care about and take pride in understanding . They like to educate themselves. They run marathons for causes and raise money from their family and friends. They organize parties to raise money and awareness. Everyone is a fundraiser now. No-one wants to be seen or treated as a walking wallet. Money is impact. Talk about the impact. Talk about the small things that people can do in their life to have an impact. Help people track the impact they are having. Make educational videos about organizing and engaging their own communities. Make people embrace your cause and go out and evangelize. Then the money will come
3. Show, don’t Tell
The young generation is suspicious of narratives. They have learned to navigate fake news and greenwashing and all sorts of sleazy salesmanship. They are vary of all forms of manipulation and they seek authenticity and proof. This is an area where incumbent charities suck big time. In an era of instant satisfaction, real-time data and same-day delivery, Charities still wait a whole year until they send that report to the donors. And the data in this report still sucks. People expect to knowwhat they are funding and they want to track their money in real time. New models have already emerged that allow charities to do exactly that: track donor money all the way to the activities on the ground, and allocate the resulting impact to whoever paid for them
4. Impact is Status
You know how people take pride that they shop local? Or that they don’t eat meat? That they recycle? Being aware of your impact (positive or negative) is a status symbol now, and will become the norm – to the point that not being aware will be socially unacceptable. Platforms such as instagram are powerful signal amplifiers for this status – as people share their awareness and their actions. If a donor supports a charity – or, as per point 2 above, fundraise for a charity – they want to share that to their network. The idea of an impact portfolio – personalized and shareable – is very appealing to the modern donor.
5. Make it Personal
People embrace causes and make them part of their identity. These causes are fundamental elements of a personal journey. “Signing a check” (a what now?) is as far away from personal as it gets. And then, to add more insult, the only personal thing they’ll ever see is the pre-filled bank order that comes in the mail (in the what?) begging for the next payment. Smart, modern charities stay away fro that. They give people a personal, engaging experience that allows donors to feel they can define and understand their own, personal impact.
6. Make it Convenient
This one is obvious. Don’t make people jump through hoops to fund you. Make sure you are up to date and front of mind and available on all the platforms that they are using in their daily life.
7. Make it real time
Another obvious one. The moment you took your money, reflect it in some sort of personal account, where people can track what their money is doing and the progress of the impact they are funding in real time, all the time. Like this.
8. Make it Urgent
In their pursuit of Baby Boomer cash, Charities have manufactured this narrative that having an impact to the world is easy: just sign that check (that what?) and everything will be fine. Some of them have taken this passive thinking to the social realm (“all you have to do is like this, retweet that”). Turns out incumbent Charities have been getting high on their own stuff. The young generation are not having any of it. Impact is an urgent, existential thing for people now. They don’t want to just sit on their hands. They know we need solutions right away and they need to be part of the solution.
9. Take a stand
For too long charities have kept away from taking a position on any issue they perceived as “controversial”, out of fear of offending part of their donor base. They have always seen themselves above politics, which is a very noble thing. But impact is political now. And in this divided and politicized world, avoiding issues can be perceived as a weasely thing to do. Don’t be afraid to take a stand. Don’t be afraid to call out shitty practices. Call out corporations or governments or politicians. Show involvement and show a spine.
10 Think beyond Charity
The most important one last. The idea that businesses are strictly profit-seeking, even at the price of negative impact, while charities have no concern for financial return is passé. The era of people who spend half their life accumulating wealth and the other half “giving back”, partly to atone for the negative impact their businesses had is over. Businesses need to show impact now and impact in itself needs to become profitable. Smart charities experiment with novel approaches that fly in the face of the business vs. charity dichotomy.
Brave new world
So there you have it. Charities are at a crossroads. They need to change fundamentally to remain relevant to a new, very different generation. Many of them will fail and slowly drift into irrelevance and oblivion. Others will adapt and become an important part of a brave new world. The best of them? You haven’t even heard of them yet – they will be first principles organizations that will emerge to fill the void .
What do you think charities can do to be relevant to the new generation?