The year 2017 began in an environment of perplexed global sentiment. From Brexit to the election of President Trump, the first 9 months of the year have been far from a smooth ride on the world stage, showing a trend towards growing isolationism and increasing uncertainty.

At the national level, for most advanced economies, this uncertainty has bred an increase in nationalism, and a move away from globalisation. In Australia, our response – in part fuelled by our strong work ethic and historic undercurrent – makes us all just want to ‘get on with it’ and get the job done.

For the not for profit sector, this means working hard at strategic initiatives, managing external risk, and taking bold initiatives to engage donors. Our conversations with the NFP sector at this time of year often involves developing strategic brand tracking to measure public engagement, or testing specific brand assets to develop powerful advertising campaigns.

Yet, before delving into the tools of marketing and communications, it is critical that NFPs grasp the trends and undercurrents taking place in the external environment, particularly those that impact donor giving. Here are three trends we feel are critical for the NFP sector to grapple with in 2017:

1. Charity saturation and the need for brand differentiation

According to JBWere’s Cause Report (2016), Australia has 56,894 NFP organisation, one NFP for every 422 individuals. The number of not for profit organisations has doubled every 20 years over the last 60 years – and despite cancelling and closure of some charities by the ACNC, there are still around 10 new charities established every business day.

2. Overall decline in public giving necessitating new fundraising initiatives

Charitable giving has been lower in Australia in 2016 than in years prior. The NAB Charitable Giving Index indicates that national giving is down, by a decrease of 0.3% growth in the 12 months leading up to Aug 2016. This compares to 5.1% growth a year earlier. While there has been resilience in the Australian economy during this time, consumers are more cautious than before, reflected by these figures.

3. Younger generations giving less and seeking experiential engagement

60% of Australian donors agree that charities will face a more difficult future as younger generations don’t seem to volunteer in an ongoing way or give as much as the generations before them (McCrindle Australian Communities Trends Report, 2016). NAB data shows that those aged 15 to 24 give just $135 on average, annually, to charities, compared to those over 65 who give $452 on average.

Behind the trends

A number of these trends are explained by a rise in the cost of living across Australia. Take Sydney housing as a case example of the growing cost of living pressures. In 1975, Sydney house prices were just 5x average annual earnings. By 1995 they had risen to 6x average annual earnings, but today – when taking the average annual salary of $80,000 per year and the median house price of well over $1 million – the average house price is 13x the cost of an average annual full-time salary.

Australian donors are finding it more difficult to give, and to give regularly. As the traditional, dependable, regular donor shrinks as a proportion of all donors, new types of donors are emerging –brand responders and opportunity givers.

Engaging ad-hoc donors

Brand responders and opportunity givers donate sporadically, in an ad-hoc way. These types of donors are still more likely to give to a single charity or cause than to multiple causes, and have a strong preference for a particularly cause or charity.

Through speaking with more than a dozen NFP experts, 54 donors face to face, and surveying 1,500 Australians, we have identified four key next steps for the charitable sector to take into account in 2017:

1. Develop multi-tiered levels of engagement

Donors want to be involved with charities, but on their own terms. Rather than fixed contracts, they desire flexible giving and varied involvement. The demand for personalisation is growing as donors expect charity engagement suited to their age and life stage.

2. Build communities for social impact

Australian donors desire to be part of a community of activists that bring about social change. They want to be involved in something bigger than themselves, knowing that together they can make a difference. This is not just ‘clicktivism’, which is seen merely as a form of virtue signalling through web-based activist organisations. Globally, networks like Avaaz.org and Change.org have created opportunities for real-life engagement of social issues, facilitated first through online platforms.

3. Communicate results in real-time

Donors want real-time results and transparent reporting of admin costs. Platforms such as GiveDirectly.org now enable donors to give directly to an individual living in extreme poverty via mobile giving. KIVA, a lending platform facilitating crowd-sourced micro loans across the globe, displays the giving of loans in real-time via an interactive world map. When donors have this type of visibility, trust and engagement follow.

4. Create fun and engaging experiences

The donor of the future is looking for participation and memories created through experiences. Nearly half (46%) of 18-29 year-old Australian donors have volunteered for a charity (compared to 31% of 30+ donors), and they are looking to do so in new, fresh ways. This is not just contained to events and a physical presence at sporting events or music festivals. Many young donors (1 in 4 of those aged 18-29, compared to just 11% of 30+ year-old donors) prefer the creative challenge of conducting their own fundraising events, providing them with the opportunity to harness their unique gifts and talents for a great cause.

For more information.

For more information on Australian Donors, see the Australian Communities Trends Report Infographic.

Connect with us if you would like more information on environmental scanning for strategic forecasting.