Charities need to think differently to attract younger donors

Using traditional methods of raising awareness among young people isn't working, says marketing expert Joe Wade

Joe Wade
Joe Wade

Recent Charities Aid Foundation research suggested that the gap between donations by over 60s and under 30s had widened in the past 30 years. More than half of donations were now from the older generation, compared with about a third in 1982. CAF called for changes to make sure young people thought more about giving, including encouraging them to volunteer and do work experience.

But how do charities do this? Easy to suggest, but harder to put into practice. Reduced sums from the government and less public giving has led to reduced spending, creating a vicious cycle in which charities are less able to recruit donors.

That’s why they need to think differently. Using traditional methods of raising awareness among young people isn’t working. Charities need to understand how people aged under 25 operate, what motivates them and on what platforms, in order to increase the number of younger donors and volunteers.

Student network

Investing in recruiting and training a self-sustaining network of student ambassadors is the equivalent of a premier league team weaning itself off a reliance on expensive foreign talent and developing a youth academy instead. At the moment, charities sign up students at fresher fairs and initiate activity during the academic year. This is not enough.

Look at the success that commercial brands have in their youth strategy. Charities take note! They operate their whole strategy through student brand ambassadors. For example, Red Bull student ambassadors aren’t well paid but benefit from the prestige of driving the Red Bull car, getting invited to Red Bull events and having something decent to add to their CVs.

What charities lack in cash they can make up for in cause. So imagine a student ambassador proposes to throw a battle of the bands for a cause. They will be able to use student venues for free, recruit talent for nothing and then keep 20 per cent of the funds raised for themselves.

Charities can make more of their existing assets in terms of tickets to high profile London events like The Secret Policemen’s Ball or The Teenage Cancer Trust's gigs. The Orange Rock Corps model was entirely based on volunteering in return for access to events, but arguably asking for four hours of volunteering is simply not enough to make a difference and may not lead to a lifetime of doing good.

Returning to the football analogy, investing in the student network is an excellent recruiting tool when it’s done properly, and there needs to be a career path baked into the network so that you can progress from the youth team to the subs bench and into the first team.

Non-student network

The campaign group Plane Stupid launched with barely a bean of funding but succeeded in making flying a hot political topic. The group did this through the use of a series of daring stunts that caused a deluge of media interest from the usual suspects (like the Guardian) to the style press (I wrote about it for Dazed & Confused) to the national news. This got the issue in front of new audiences and led to an overwhelming amount of interest. In terms of lessons learned, it was almost too successful for Plane Stupid’s underfunded administrative structure to cope with. So make sure that you have the structure in place to cope with the potential success of your campaign.

The tax campaign group UK Uncut has followed a similar trajectory but has benefited from developments in social media. Twitter was a shadow of its presence today when Plane Stupid launched in 2008, for example. Web development costs have also reduced significantly. Wordpress has made the production of slick sites easier and cheaper but they have focused on capturing the imagination of young people using fun, ballsy stunts. These work best around a single issue. Charities should think of bold, funny initiatives that also work as direct action -  for example protesting outside a Vodafone shop to raise an issue such as why was it allowed to pay so little tax, and providing a clear call to action based around recruitment.

Finally, funding

Some of these suggestions may seem out of reach financially, but remember the web has provided new ways to fund compelling actions. Why not start a campaign by describing your nemesis and how you plan to prank them on Kickstarter. If it’s funny and aimed at someone everybody hates, you will be able to raise financing to pay for a protest and a video. Bang goes the element of surprise, but hello press, engagement with an issue - and donations.

Joe Wade is co-founder of marketing agency Don't Panic!

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