Young person in their early twenties standing up on a tube train wearing headphones

Getting down with the kidz: why the third sector needs to get to know Gen Z and millennial donors a whole lot better

There’s a sense of growing optimism in the third sector. The general election in July brings the prospect of a renewed relationship with an incoming administration, which could help their campaigning efforts in the UK. The economic outlook is brightening up too… a little. Inflation is easing, donations are on the up and our CharityTracker data shows that, since Covid, there’s been steadily rising interest from members of the public in their communities and in being part of collective action to drive change.

The stage is set for charities to hit the ground running post election. However, if they want to grab the opportunities ahead of them, they will need to tackle one of the sector’s fundamental challenges: charities’ shrinking relevance with younger people.

Consumer brands, influencers and grassroots activist movements are all vying for attention in the ‘purpose’ space. Amid the noise, non-profits are struggling to stand out for Gen Z and millennials – the donors of tomorrow. Our data shows that people aged between 18 and 29 are twice as likely than the national average to trust social media influencers as a source of information on social causes and 40% less likely to trust charities.

One of the big problems is that non-profits just aren’t visible enough in these people’s lives. 18 to 29 year olds are 43% less likely to see or hear a national charity communicating about social causes. So it’s a case of being in the right places and on the right channels to reach this group – think social media, podcasts and so on. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Not quite, I’m afraid.

The trickier part of the challenge is how organisations communicate and campaign on these channels to engage specific demographics. Getting this right needs a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what pushes different people’s buttons.

Our recent research, in collaboration with The GOOD Agency and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, uncovered the major motivations which move different people to donate. We found that, for younger donors, the triggers for giving are around being able to express their personal values publicly and feel part of a social group of kindred spirits.

The sector’s traditional approach of focusing marketing and fundraising on those connected to a cause or on generating an emotional response doesn’t make an impact for swathes of young people. For this group, it’s about making giving sociable, public and easy.

I’m not saying we should throw the baby out with the bath water – personal connection and universal ideals will still chime with some people, particularly older groups – but charities should be thinking hard about whether they’re just relying on old techniques and expecting them to work with newer generations.

It’s about taking a fresh look at the campaign approaches, language and creative content they’re using, backed up by data and evidence on what will really resonate with and motivate the people they need to reach.

The outlook for the third sector is a positive one, but charities can’t rest on their laurels. Winning over Gen Z and millennials has to be a priority to secure the future of fundraising and avoid not-for-profits being left in the shadow of purpose-led consuner brands.

Read our report, Tomorrow’s Donor Today, to find out more.


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