Last week saw the release of the Imagine Canada and Rideau Hall Foundation report 30 Years of Giving in Canada, the most exhaustive study ever made on Canadians’ charitable giving patterns between 1985 and 2014.
One of the study’s main findings is that if we in the charitable sector don’t take action soon to reach out to and connect with new Canadians and young people in an effective and credible manner, the sector will no longer be viable.
Organizations with essential missions will simply not be able to survive without replacing their aging donors, and it is the most vulnerable members of our society who will pay the price. When we read too that the charitable sector accounts for 8.1% of Canada’s GDP and that NPOs employ 2 million people across the country, or 10.5% of the entire workforce, I have to ask myself what we’re waiting for before we take action.
I won’t comment today on the study’s findings regarding newcomers to Canada, who give considerably more than we might have expected, except to point out that this pleasant surprise shows that we should get to know our donors better and shake off our prejudices when it comes to charitable giving.
Instead, I would like to focus on the other group that we can’t afford to ignore for much longer: young people.
Here, the findings won’t come as a surprise to anyone. We’ve known for a long time that we have to replenish our pool of donors; the affluent baby boomers who are responsible for three quarters of charitable giving aren’t getting any younger, unfortunately, nor are the 70-and-over donors who are also substantial donors.
One bit of new information: young people do not give because, first, nobody asks them to, and second, they don’t know who to give to. It just goes to show how much we underestimate them.
What more are we waiting for before we make young people the focus of our acquisition, conversion and retention strategies?
I’m not talking here about using the same old recipe with this new target group, or about thinking that including Facebook in our campaign is enough. I’m talking about new strategies developed with young people in mind right from the start, and which will have to be based on three imperatives:
Really want to get to know them
This means taking a genuine interest in young people, and not seeing them as a monolithic block. Our segmentations have to be more detailed and more precise if we are to supply interesting content and engagement opportunities for every profile. It also means developing a real relationship with them and, since they have grown up using interactive media, putting in place the necessary channels to hear whatever they have to say.
Don’t take anything for granted
Just because you’re under 30 doesn’t mean you don’t answer the phone or feel any curiosity when opening a white envelope (or a green one!) with your name on it. There’s more than just one channel for reaching a given age group, and we would be missing out if we presumed that Facebook alone would do the trick. The example of my 18-year-old niece comes to mind. She became a Montreal SPCA monthly donor after receiving a telemarketing call in response to an online petition she had signed. It would also have been wrong to presume that someone couldn’t become a monthly donor without having already made a donation, because in this case that would have missed the mark.
Whether it’s by using a mix of channels or varying the tone of our messages, I believe we have to be more daring. We can’t limit ourselves to tried-and-true strategies because although they work with today’s donors, they won’t work with tomorrow’s. And we have to test, test, test. I can’t stress this point enough. I know, here I go again with the subject of being daring, and some people say it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re already in survival mode. But the way I see it, it’s the only way to go.
We no longer have the luxury of time. Fortunately, I know it’s a challenge we’re able to meet.