Uncertainty was the big theme at this year's International Fundraising Congress, held in the Netherlands last week.
The uncertainty centred on two issues: the recession and the use of digital technology and social media. Fundraisers wanted to know what was happening, what the next 12 months would hold and how worried – or how optimistic – they should be.
And they got some answers. New media was covered in plenty of sessions, including a six-hour masterclass on how charities could make the most of digital media.
Jason Potts of Think Consulting Solutions said charities should always be ready to adapt to the latest technologies. "If you're engaged in a web project and you don't feel comfortable that you'll be able to throw it away in a year's time, then you're spending too much time and money on it," he said.
More digital fundraising advice came from Bryan Miller, head of strategy at Cancer Research UK. The 35 to 44-year-olds age group, he said, was the fastest-growing group of users of social networking sites. "Among younger groups, levels of social network use have become saturated," he said. "Charities should appeal to this older group online too."
Jonathan Waddingham, a researcher for donation website JustGiving, also said older donors were happy to give online. A survey of visitors to the site, he said, showed that for 47 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds, it was their first online donation, compared with only 26 per cent of people aged between 35 and 44.
But uncertainty was not limited to the delegates: even the speakers sang from different hymn sheets at times.
Waddingham told delegates that, contrary to popular perceptions, men donated more than women. Their average donation through JustGiving was about £6 higher than that of their female counterparts, he said.
But Tony Elischer, director of Think, told delegates to target women in their campaigns. Women were the bedrock of the sector, he told the audience at his session on the future of fundraising, and campaigns that targeted them effectively would do well.
The recession was the other big source of debate. Tim Hunter, international fundraising director at Unicef, told delegates they had survived so far and things were not as bad as some had feared when the banks first crashed last autumn.
But in the closing plenary session, Ingrid Srinath, secretary general of civil society network Civicus, took a more pessimistic tone. Things would get tougher in 2010, she said, and tougher still in 2011.
The delegates weren't fazed by the apparently mixed messages. The consensus seemed to be that if they left the Netherlands with a handful of new ideas, a bit of motivation and the sense that others shared their worries, it had been a week well spent.