Engaging with next generation charity donors via digital

Ben Hart
I live near King’s Cross and have done so for over a decade. During that time it has changed considerably, from being a somewhat dodgy big railway station area full of many an undesirable element in need of much spit and polish, through to its ongoing transformation into one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects. In welcoming Eurostar, King’s Cross has been brought up to date to become an increasingly modern transit terminal, with public, living and office space that London can be proud of. One thing that has remained roughly constant is the need to dodge chuggers on my walk to the station. Smiling, happy, typically young people with some gumption and a clipboard. Colourful t shirts, a little swagger and a remit to take money off anyone that might give them the time as quickly and effectively as possible. I dodge them. So do most people in my observation that make their way past any regular quartet of street blocking smiles. We intentionally called Atmosphere a business futures practice; a core proposition that somewhat flies in the face of marketing 101 which would suggest tight and focused, know what we do best and hone it, especially in our message to market. Futures are interesting, somewhat unknown (despite best laid plans) and open to much influence from factors such as environmental, technological and, of course, the influence of change. Chuggers represent old world charity engagement with the public and are certainly a dated means of acquiring a loyal donor base. King’s Cross continues to move forward at a pace, it’s an entirely different landscape with a real sense of progress and change. Similarly, if we consider the young people that will come to visit, work, and play (there’s a Pacha and a swimming pond going in somewhere apparently) their behaviours continue to change, faster than new buildings go up or brownfield turns to glass and steel. The pace of digital technology acceptance and adoption is one of the largest drivers of change in the way that millennials connect with the brands, products and services around them. Our own, yours, or for that matter any business future will be defined in decent measure by the ability to recognise, adapt and appeal to the changing behaviours of next generation audiences. No more chuggers please. In the public’s perception, charities can easily become an annoying interruption on an already fractious daily commute. Millennials care about purpose, they collect experiences, choose to network around relevance and seek out transparently relayed organisational qualities that are towards good. The future of engaging the next generation of donor goes far beyond a smile and clipboard. The changes that charities need to consider and embrace in order to appeal to changing donor behaviours include:

Empower and enable the proactive donor online

We must modernise the posters for the cake stall and helping set up the coffee morning. Noisy days: red noses, wigs, beards. Run, bike and walk for me. The migration is from ‘do some good for me’ and the future so much more about being a part of the good that we wish to create and co-create with donors and their preferred cause. What does this mean? Take for instance the idea that at some stage we are all likely to be affected by or know someone who will suffer from cancer. Appealing to donors or for that matter empowered networkers is a matter of recognising the inevitable trauma and associated anxiety this situation presents and providing a means to alleviate it, make a difference or help other people in the same place. Rather than choosing to donate into the big pot of larger charities we believe that future donors will increasingly find a connection to causes that they personally care about and will therefore choose to make a difference to where it matters to them on a smaller, more local scale with heightened relevance. This could take the form of giving to a care network treating people locally in the home, or a local hospice, by way of example. Being closer to the cause and empowering those that are motivated to do good and providing means to connect where the difference is made simply means the heart and mind is in it that much more. Recognising who will engage, their will to be involved and to what extent, and helping them to make a difference, building up relationships and understanding what they need to make more impact provokes the need for charities to become connected enablers. Charities will broker shared contribution and involvement, build trust and ultimately empower tomorrow's donor with a rich toolset of online utility, content and best practice. The future is not just about an appeal for financial contribution its about creating good together.

Involve donor networks in causality

We all have networks, donors have networks and many of our next generation donors will have large reach via the online networks they have built intuitively as digital natives. At the moment, if one of these people chooses to give it’s likely that they invite a bunch of their friends to a justgiving.com or a virginmoney.com page, make a compelling case for them to hock in a few quid, leave a name and get some broadcast comms on the other side about all the good work that the charity they have chosen to support is doing. Add in a call to action to post or share to facebook or via twitter and we become socially enabled. I recently supported a couple of friends running for causes, one for Mind (the mental health charity) and the other Barnardos. I’m certain that I am not alone in not wanting to receive a great deal more email comms into my inbox, in fact short of a few high value add newsletters the first thing I often look for is the unsubscribe link. Accordingly I’ve done my giving, gift aid and all, feel somewhat worthy about having done so and I am likely to not engage at all further with the cause or for that matter the charity having unticked every box that that I could find to avoid any more broadcast emails cluttering up my inbox. Involving people’s networks closer to the cause rather than solely with the appeal of the person who has chosen to invite their network to give, done with meaning and transparent purpose, readily expands reach. But how? Invite their contribution beyond simply a financial one, play to the group dynamics of doing it together and achieving together, recognition, reward, shared belief that in doing something together we have increased our impact. The value exchange here is key, with so many different propositions vying for people's time and attention making a compelling case is paramount. That and keep it light, fun and achievable and we’re pretty much there. Of course this is considerably easier said than done. In donating recently to mind, a charity where I have a great deal of personal interest not least having worked variously with mental health trusts in the NHS as well as mental health issues having effected friends variously over the years, presently their cause and proposition will have little to no resonance with me post donation through any measure of engagement or call to action for me to become involved or continue to support them (having unticked all those comms boxes). So much of the challenge here is about leveraging shared interest to create some good. The runner I supported via virgin money giving clearly cares, so do I, and the other people donating do too. How much we care about mind versus the runner versus a little feel good? What stories can emerge out of shared interest and a will to come together to help, co-created content, further reach, shareable assets. Get the tone right and find something beyond a call to action that I’m happy to share with my network and we amplify our coming together with more impact.

Engage via reciprocity

It’s an old moniker; you have to give to receive. Charities have traditionally honed the invitation out to prospective donors to give, in return, of course, the promise is to spend the money wisely and in a way that best supports the cause. Yet, beyond the promise of engagement further down the pipeline what is the personal return on time and money spent for the donor? To get involved in the story, to help in narrating the success, being celebrated for making the difference by being recognised a good person, which is then amplified and shared online.

Evolve organisational structures to reach out and connect

A somewhat obvious known is that people like to connect and engage with people. Consider breaking down the walls of charities to encourage a transparent and valuable exchange between the people in the business and those outside such that they connect and empower, promote and develop. Donors become natural extensions to charity teams and their networks come to represent the charity’s brand and expression, through the aggregation of all the various positive differences made.


If the future is full of change at an increasing pace, and if the next generation’s loyalty and attention will not be bought off the back of the interrupting sell of chuggers, then charities must find new ways to reach out and appeal to the donors of tomorrow. Involving, co-creating, and developing stories off the back of heightened relevance that will reach out to self formed networks with increased appeal present ample opportunity to bring the outreach work of charities into a contemporary frame. Atmosphere are looking to develop opportunities to explore this future with a small group of charities that are looking to innovate and pilot activity in order to ensure they have a robust means to continue to remain relevant into the future. Looking for support for yourself or someone else? Atmosphere appreciates there is an excellent range of support agencies located in the UK, and recommends anybody in need to seek qualified support. As a starting point some example organisations are detailed below, including those mentioned in this post. Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Mind campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. https://www.mind.org.uk/ Barnardo's is a British charity founded by Thomas John Barnardo in 1866, to care for vulnerable children and young people. http://www.barnardos.org.uk/ DrugFam provide a lifeline of safe, caring and professional support to families, friends and partners who are struggling to cope with the nightmare of a loved one's addiction to drugs or alcohol and to those who have been bereaved by addiction or related causes. http://www.drugfam.co.uk/ Rehab 4 Alcoholism is a free and impartial helpline for people troubled with drug and alcohol issues. Rehab 4 Alcoholism aims to save lives by stopping addiction before it becomes too late. https://www.rehab4alcoholism.com

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