Generation Y is coming of age. People born between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, now teenagers and twentysomethings, are starting to reach the age at which they might begin to give to charity. But experts fear that charity fundraisers are not doing enough to engage this generation.
John Baguley, director of the International Fundraising Consultancy, says members of Generation Y share some characteristics that should make them an important target for fundraisers.
They have a "hive mentality", he says, and are more community-focused than previous generations, partly because of their use of social networking websites. They also have greater awareness of world events because of 24-hour media. "They are connected more intensely to each other by networking through texting and social media such as Facebook," he says. "They also group together to create content together and are highly educated."
Connecting to the Net.Generation: What Higher Education Professionals Need to Know About Today's Students, a 2007 US study of nearly 8,000 college students, emphasised how important such connections are to Generation Y. Of those surveyed, 97 per cent owned a computer, two-thirds regularly used instant messaging and a third cited the internet as their main source of news.
Baguley says they are also more likely to have been university educated and have money to give now, not just in 20 or 30 years' time.
But many charities prefer to play it safe and focus on the baby boomer generation, says Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising. "A lot of charities see targeting Generation Y purely as a short-term strategy," he says. "With uncertainty about where the recession is going, many are looking at ensuring they are getting the money coming in.
"At the moment, in terms of legacies and committed giving, they think baby boomers are where the money is."
Friends of the Earth is a case in point. Matthew White, direct marketing manager at the charity, says its fundraising focus is still on baby boomers because "our analysis shows older supporters tend to give more money over a longer time period".
He adds, however, that the charity plans to look at ways of targeting Generation Y for donations later this year.
Boswell says charities such as Friends of the Earth are wise to explore the potential of targeting a variety of groups for fundraising, rather than relying solely on the ageing, but richer, baby boomers.
One hurdle charities face in targeting Generation Y is their own lack of understanding of new media and social networking. "Those with budget control in most charities are Generation X-ers in their late 30s to 50s, or baby boomers," says Boswell.
"They often do not understand or use the technology, and as a result it is not being understood further down the organisation. How many charity heads have Facebook accounts?"
According to Passion, Persistence and Partnership, a 2008 Institute of Fundraising and MissionFish survey, the confidence of charity employees in their organisations' ability to make the most of the internet has declined steadily in recent years. In 2003, just over half of employees said their charity was performing well in terms of internet communication. By 2007, this had fallen to only a quarter.
Boswell says charity chiefs must either learn to understand social networking and mobile phone communication themselves or make sure there are people in the organisation who can take the lead with this work. "Our sector can be very conservative," he says.
"What needs to happen is a greater openness for new ideas and using a number of different media to target different groups. Some are realising this, but too many are not, and they will have problems in the future if they do not adapt."
One example he gives of a charity that has realised the need to change is Christian Aid. Two years ago it appointed former PlayStation marketing manager Katrin Owusu as its first head of youth marketing and innovations, and last year it launched its youth initiative Ctrl.Alt.Shift.
"Christian Aid was aware that it needed to look at the long-term future in terms of support and fundraising as well as do more to tap into the sense of social justice that many young people have," says Owusu.
Aimed at 18 to 25-year-olds, Ctrl.Alt.Shift focuses on online communication and forums, allowing young people to get involved with Christian Aid campaigns and develop their own. Activity by the 20,000 young people who signed up as supporters of Ctrl.Alt.Shift has included the Nothing to Declare project, which involved a series of demonstrations about the stigma created by travel bans on people with HIV last year.
The emphasis so far has been on engaging young people in campaigning. "The next stage is monetising that engagement," says Owusu, who says plans to produce Ctrl.Alt.Shift-branded entertainment, music and arts merchandise are in the pipeline.
"The trick is to not just suddenly ask for money," says Owusu. "Pure altruism is rare among Generation Y-ers. They are willing to give, but often in exchange for something or only if they can see directly how their money is helping. This is why we are looking to create products."
Young people's advice and information service YouthNet has also realised the need to give Generation Y-ers something in return for their money. Two months ago the charity launched its first student events programme, designed to encourage student events organisers to use their expertise to stage fundraising events for YouthNet.
"In return they get a reference from us and help with their CV, and we also offer mentoring from our business partners," says Sarah Hooker, deputy development director at YouthNet.
Creating a buzz about your organisation is also vital to attracting Generation Y, says John Carnell, chief executive of Bullying UK. "Generation Y-ers in the UK love buzz," he says.
"The trick is to create a buzz around your organisation and then get people to share information about it, including options for donating."
About half of Bullying UK's £50,000 annual income comes from Generation Y-ers. "Word of mouth and using social networking to spread information about the charity is far more effective then just asking for money," says Carnell. "Generation Y-ers like to feel actively involved in the buzz around an organisation."
Fundraising consultant John Baguely explains the age gaps
Seniors (born: 1901-1924)
They give out of a sense of duty and expect polite thanks in return. They prefer print media and don't like phone calls from fundraisers, but don't respond well to expensive literature.
Silent (born: 1925-1945)
They share many of the same attitudes of seniors about fundraising, preferring print media. They are now retired and their wealth is often in the form of property. They are called the silent generation because they were overshadowed by the seniors and baby boomers.
Baby boomers (born: 1946-1964)
There's lots of them and they have access to lot of money. They prefer to be approached in print, online or on the phone (but not by mobile). They tend to be inquisitive about charities they donate to and can be fickle in their giving.
Generation X (born: 1965-1977)
They are at ease with technology and dislike reading lots of text. Before they give, they need to be convinced there is a problem. They are comfortable with phone, internet and street fundraising.
Generation Y (born: 1978-1995)
This generation is well connected via texting and social networking websites. They prefer to be approached by mobile, internet or on the street. They are also comfortable with being in debt.