18 Jul 2016

Charities, technology and the fight for millennial donors

With more than 195,000 charities in the UK spending over £80bn a year, the charity sector is arguably in desperate need of digital disruption. Digital technology is bulldozing through any sector standing in its path, changing the way we communicate, travel and pay for goods and services. While digital trends are not exclusive to one sector, the impact of technological advances will undeniably have an impact on the customer journey. This is partnered with the need to capitalise on the changing ways of thinking and in turn, giving, that accompanies millenials and their power to affect the route of business in the digital age. So what trends can charities embrace to gain the trust of a potentially pivotal generation?

How about the latest whirr of hype and ‘shiny new toys’ that accompanies virtual reality and its supposed endless possibilities? The frenzy surrounding the digital realms of the virtual world is very much buzzing around the possibilities of creating, gaming and essentially living in a simulated biosphere. Is this the trick to set millennial hearts racing in the charity sector? One idea embraced by The Charity: Water gala in New York which used VR headsets to immerse potential donors into the lives of their beneficiaries, transporting guests to an Ethiopian village and into the story of a teenage girl and her daily struggle to access clean water. In this instance, the gala raised $1.9 million in one night. Could VR be a way to reinvigorate excitement in the charity sector, or is it just the latest tech fad?

So what about Snapchat? All the young people use Snapchat. Organisations have been slow to adopt Snapchat, yet it boasts an audience of 100 million people and has the youngest audience of all social networks. With 45% of its users being under the age of 24, is it time for charities to get their snaps ready, pick out some geotags and tackle a platform prime for attracting millennial attention? WWF in Denmark encompassed the idea of Snapchat as a platform for temporary images to link with the fleeting nature of endangered species. Snapchatters were presented with images of endangered species which would disappear within a matter of seconds, creating a sense of loss and urgency. UNICEF also partnered with Snapchat to share images drawn by children in West and Central Africa and the disappearance of the image once again emphasised the sense of loss, an aspect critical to many charity campaigns. Although a useful tool to raise awareness, Snapchat may not have the ability to fire up a call to action.


Wearable technology? Can charities benefit from the exploding market which continues to find new niches? With one in six consumers currently using wearable tech and 71% if 16-24 year olds stating that they want wearable tech, surely this could be an avenue for charities to venture down. One example could be using Smart Watches and their ability to track location and measure activities, making them a potential opportunity for fundraising. Whilst marathons can be an important source of raising charity funds, they also take a lot of organising and expense. However, what if everyone didn’t have to be in the same place with an entry number and everything else that goes with it? Smart Watches could enable a private marathon up and down the country whereby all locations and activity levels are connected. This would enable participation without organising an event in one location and allow people to track, donate and share encouragement digitally.

Speaking of simplifying participation, another opportunity could be found in AI. For example, charities could use an app such as BeWorthwhile which matches volunteers’ strongest skills with the charities that need them. It means charities can request a volunteer with the skills they may be lacking in. This creates a two-way street whereby it would be more rewarding for a volunteer to use their specific skills, and thus make the experience more valuable for the charity too.

However, is it just in the digital sense that charities need to evolve? Despite their stereotype of being a generation of selfie-obsessed narcissists, many argue that millennials, as a group, see giving in much broader terms than their predecessors, preferring to volunteer, recruit others to join them and use social media for crowdfunding. Perhaps if charities are to truly take advantage of the opportunities these trends provide they will need to find a crossover between digital advances and developments in how and why people should give.