Generation generous: How to attract and retain young donors

Over the past two years, donors’ attitudes towards charity have changed considerably. Amid a global pandemic, climate change, a refugee crisis and tensions in Afghanistan, a whole new demographic of people have started to think about how they might be able to give more. One demographic in particular, ‘Gen Z’, are passionate about doing more for the world and, through social media, are seeking charities that share similar values.

Recent research has backed up this trend. This year’s annual Donor Pulse report from Enthuse, found that as well as being far more likely to give, under 40s spread their giving amongst more different causes than over 40s. Nearly half (48%) have donated to three or more causes in the last three months, “underlining the importance of charities building campaigns and approaches that are designed to appeal to younger donors”.

The shift to online giving has also accelerated in recent years, which has been a factor in the huge increase in donations from younger donors. The report found 44% of the public have given online – up 7% since June 2020. Under 40s were naturally the main drivers of this increase with 62% of Gen Z and 64% of millennials donating online.

These figures come despite lockdown restrictions lifting, highlighting a demand for online giving, even in a face-to-face world. This is positive news for charities, who are now able to access a younger audience more easily than prior to the pandemic.

“Charities need to be innovating to appeal to younger supporters if they are to maximise their potential donations,” Louise Tullin, CMO at Enthuse says. “Younger donors are some of the most generous, which means charities would be missing out on considerable potential income if they failed to accommodate for this tech-savvy generation with digital fundraising options”.

Branding is key

Branding is key to reaching this audience – Tullin notes that 78% of donors can remember the name of the charity they last gave to when donating through a charity’s website, but only 63% can recall the charity if they went through a consumer giving platform.

“If charities innovate with branded, digital fundraising solutions, not only will they be accommodating younger donors’ preferred way to give, but they’ll increase their chances of building the next generation of long-term supporters through improved brand recall,” Tullin says.

Wander Bruijel, branding expert at branding agency Born Ugly agrees, arguing that it’s essential charities understand their target audience and what behaviour or action they would like their audience to take. “In the case of a charity, this may be to donate money, to volunteer time, to create word of mouth,” he says.
“Once you’re clear on these points, it’s about understanding how you can create an emotional connection for the brand in the minds of the target audience.

Partly, this is about answering rational questions such as ‘what is your purpose?’, ‘Why do you exist?’, ‘What do you do?’, ‘How do you do it?’, ‘What is your positioning in the market versus other competing brands (and this doesn’t have to be other charities!)?’. But it is mostly about creating an emotional connection. What makes you distinct? What makes you different?
“Once that is clear, there is the tough job of cutting through the clutter and noise. The UK charity market is big and it is competitive. So, you create brand assets that tell that story and connect both rationally and emotionally (system one & system two), and you activate that brand across the channels that are relevant to your audience.”

Ahead of the game

Many charities are already working hard to access a younger donor base, due in part to a surge in interest from this demographic over the course of the pandemic. Michelle Vickers, CEO at the Head and Neck Foundation says Generation Z joined millennials as its primary donor base during this period.

“We mostly target these groups through paid fundraising events and social media influence,” Vickers explains. “We facilitate events such as the London to Brighton bike ride which has brought many young donors and fundraisers into the charity. Big events such as our Glitter Ball also helped bring in a younger audience as we can tailor the event to their needs.

“Both Generation Z and Millennials use technology to get information. Most young people use social media, so we promote our mission, upcoming events, and fundraising goals through social media.”

Remaining relevant

But while charities need to ensure their branding is relevant, it’s also important not to alienate an older audience. Enthuse’s Tullins explains that while younger supporters are more likely to donate online, the organisation’s research shows an increase in online donations being made across the board, including 38% of 40-54 year-olds and 29% of 55-64 year-olds.

“The two age groups saw a 4% and 7% growth respectively from three months prior. This is the highest percentage of online donations being made in a quarter that we’ve seen, despite lockdown restrictions loosening. “The temptation is there for charities to focus solely on digital fundraising, as it isn’t subject to last-minute cancellations like an in-person event. While digital fundraising is a vital income stream, charities would be wise to take a hybrid approach to ensure their fundraising campaigns are inclusive.”

However, Born Ugly’s Bruijel argues that charities don’t need to strike a balance. “This isn’t a zero- sum game of one or the other,” he says. “The truth is that it isn’t just younger generations that are well- connected. The majority of Gen-Y, X, & baby boomers are highly digitally versed. Remember, these are the generations creating the tools for Gen-Z & Alpha!”


So once charities have attracted this key demographic, how do they hold onto them? Bruijel suggests transparency will be key in retaining a younger donor base, who typically have stronger ethics than older generations. “While Gen-Z and Gen-A are driving a lot of this forthcoming change, younger audiences are much more demanding and less trusting of charities than older generations. They are driving a real attitudinal change to charities.”

“Firstly, they are the audience that – surprisingly – is most likely to volunteer and offer their time to a cause they care about. But, they have a natural distrust of big monopolistic players. They despise charities that have fat cats at the top with big salaries. Their expectation is that charities do charity work, for no other purpose than to do good.”

With this in mind, its essential charities prioritise transparency to allow donors to see the impact the charity is making in both real and tangible terms. “They expect charities to be relevant, tapping into what is important to them. Rather than support a charity, they are much more likely to support a cause and an issue that has real-world impact. And they want their support to fit conveniently into their digital lives, to give them control and to have micro-immediacy.”

While it may not be a simple audience to conquer, the benefits are certainly vast. Younger people are much more likely to be engaged and motivated to support a cause that matters to them long-term.

“It’s too easy to say that young people are our future but that’s because they are. They are potential lifelong supporters and hopefully will go on to advocate for the cause to later generations,” Vickers explains.

Brujeil concurs, concluding: “If you get them, they’ll support you fervently. But be relevant and transparent. You must accept that they poke through disingenuousness and in-authenticity. Be open, transparent, and honest, and they’ll forgive any mistakes you make (so long as you own up to them).” ■

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