What can charities expect from the ‘youth of today’?

A recent publication by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) concludes that Britain faces a long-term crisis in terms of charitable donations. CAF’s analysis of different generations within the UK and their philanthropic tendencies has revealed that younger generations are failing to match the generosity of people born between 1925 and 1966 (the Silent Generation – ’25-’45 and the baby boomers – ’45-’66). This evident ‘generosity gap’ has been growing wider and wider over the past three decades with the over-60s now six times more generous than the under-30s.

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So why do both the Silent Generation and the baby boomers have a greater sense of philanthropy over generations X, Y and Z? Maybe a commitment to help those less fortunate was bred out of the experience of war – an era of hardship and pulling together; community spirit was then far more prevalent than can be observed in most places in the UK today. This habit of helping, caring and supporting may help explain why these older generations are racing ahead in the donation stakes.

The economic downturn surely has a part to play; not only are there more and more people becoming reliant on charitable services, but less and less people are donating, especially the under-30s.Since 1980, the participation rate among the under-30s has fallen from 23 per cent to 15 per cent. However, according to the report, the majority of the decline in donations occurred between 1980 and 1990, rather than more recent times that have been fraught with economic gloom.

There have of course been many other large changes in sociological and economic conditions during the last century. It is quite feasible that these have had a marked effect on the general attitudes to charitable donation and volunteering. One example may be a broader exposure to global media and a proliferation of charities and charitable trusts. The way in which charities now fundraise has also undergone a huge transformation during the last 50 years. This may be argued to have created some degree of saturation and possible confusion over which causes to support.

On reading this article, I retained a slither of hope; maybe this decline in donations from younger generations would be somewhat counteracted by an upward trend in volunteering, donating time rather than money. According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, this isn’t the case. The average number of hours spent volunteering per volunteer declined by 30% between 1997 and 2007 (Helping Out, 2007). Evidence also suggests that there is a trend towards more episodic volunteering, rather than sustained activities.

ImageThere’s certainly an increase in voluntourism – short bursts of intense volunteer work. But what’s better – a month long volunteering trip whereby all of your time and effort is ploughed into the cause, or two hours a month of volunteering activity over the space of a number of years? In both instances the overall number of hours may eventually become comparable but they will of course have different degrees and durations of effect and commitment.

There is no doubt that the number of ways that individuals can contribute to good causes has increased over the last century. In particular there are now many more opportunities for people to actively engage in the activities of overseas charity work. This can only be a good thing for global awareness and outward looking society. But whether this means that involvement in UK-based volunteering activities should suffer is still up for debate.

Let’s finish on a positive note:

The report highlights that there is usually a steep increase in giving with age, so there’s still hope for the apparently tight-pocketed younger generations. Those born in the 1970s and 1980s seem to be catching up with their predecessors; donations were typically below those of older generations when this cohort were in their 20s, but giving is increasing with age.

The report offers the facts; the next step is to try to understand why such differences exist and how they can be manipulated.

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