Opinion: NGOs need to aim mid-range

The time has come to finally commit. For 15 years, I have managed to maintain a series of monogamous relationships with a number of NGOs.

I am one of those smug people who make a good living from the woes of the world. But then, I was born in the 1960s. I missed out on that burst of energy in the NGO sector when people were signing up for Amnesty or Shelter in the same way they were joining political movements. At 14, I was busy thinking how great it was that we had our first female PM. Well, I was young and foolish.

The challenge facing NGOs is often characterised as having faithful but dwindling support from the over-70s, while struggling to engage the under-30s. The picture is actually more complicated. Depending on what you believe, the young are either radical but disengaged from traditional forms of politics and social movements, or they are simply Thatcher's children.

But what of those in the middle? Perhaps it is my generation that NGOs should be paying more attention to. People born in 1960 will be 60 in 2020. Many will be still planning to work for another decade. More of their parents will still be alive and well. Around them will be increasing numbers of older people in need of healthcare and long-term support. Compared to their parents' generation, fewer will have children and more will have just one. Fewer will have traditional family structures, fewer will have husbands and wives, more will have step-children and more will be single parents.

But being older, without children and not married does not mean you don't have support networks. It does mean these will be more diverse and may rely on more people of the same age. This may include partners - gay and heterosexual - ex-partners, and friends as well as other relatives. My generation will want to see themselves in charity campaigns. This means much more than dropping the blue rinse and granny boots, but providing more services that fit their lifestyles and their needs.

Rachel O'Brien is director of external affairs at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Lisa Harker is recovering from an accident.

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