Charities need to get cool, quick

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Charities need to get cool, quick

Donors are no longer driven by a sense of duty. They want to be cool, and charities must keep up, according to Alan Clayton

A fundamental misunderstanding among the UK population risks fundraisers and trustees making decisions that will critically damage charities’ income.  There has recently been publicity about a very slight drop in the number of people giving to charity each year, which has been benchmarked over the past 20 years.  The coverage focused on the challenge of professional fundraising, when the number of people giving is decreasing.If this cynical interpretation is taken at face value, our leaders will cut investment in fundraising and this will be a short-termist and damaging course of action.

It’s not that less people are donating to charity. It’s that less people are giving in the traditional, guilt-driven way.  More people are giving, but not in the way that trustees are used to, or like.  It’s time to adapt or die.

Two four letter words

In 1950, the vast majority of the UK population had a values set corresponding to level four on the Graves model [1].  This means they knew their place, were motivated by society and acknowledge that ‘the system’ was the right way of doing things.  They respected the monarchy, deferred to government and sacrificed luxuries for the good of their communities.

Now, only a third of our citizens have these predominant values.  However, this is the pool in which the majority of fundraisers still fish.  They respond to guilt-driven messages. And every trained fundraiser knows how to deliver these.

The problem is that there are now a lot less of these level four personalities than there were.  Level five values are now dominant.  Such individuals crave success, image, self-development, material possessions, adventure and fun.  There are at least as many of these people now as there are level fours.  Probably more, in fact.  These are the people that see the forthcoming royal wedding as an excuse to disappear overseas to somewhere hot for a week or two.

Changes in cultural values can be hard to comprehend without in-depth research.  So, here’s a huge simplification, in two four letter words, to ease your understanding:

  • Traditional donors (level four) are motivated by duty; and
  • Modern donors (level five) are motivated by cool.

I think that if fundraisers have managed to more or less maintain their level four donor population (it is only a very tiny drop) in the face of a vast reduction in its numbers, they have done a pretty good job.  We have a similar number of supporters from a smaller target audience.

Another level

The answer is pretty simple.  We need to engage level five people.  But there is a fundamental problem here.  Many fundraisers and almost all our programme’s colleagues are themselves level six people.  This is the ‘cause and groups’ segment.  They believe in making the world a better place, building consensus, intellectualism and collaboration. On the face of it, this seems a good thing, but there are there are issues.  This group is appalling at making money, which is disturbing if you are a fundraiser. They are also very slow at getting anything done. 

Far worse, is the fact that levels five and six simply despise each other.  Level five people regard level six to be a waste of space and suggest they should get a proper job.  Level six people love to spend their time sitting in judgement over level five and blaming them for all the ills of the world.  Culturally, they are at war.  For example, witness globalisation protests, the widening gulf between financial sectors and public or voluntary sectors, or even our current coalition government.

So, the fundraiser (good ones should have level five and level six values – good luck) sits in the middle of this ongoing feud.  Our colleagues want us to blame and preach to the modern population and tell them they should behave as their old level four elders did.  Sixes just love telling other people what to do.  But fives won’t respond to this – they hate being ordered around – so, we will just drive them away.

Be cool

You can’t tell cool people to do their duty.  It’s not in their vocabulary.  The more you tell them they have to make sacrifices, the more they will laugh at you.  It may not be the values they should have (according to some) but without them there is no economy. They hold a huge chunk of the wealth that could be applied philanthropically.  It’s no good shaking heads, tutting and wishing for better times.

Fundraisers have to become cool instead, which is where charities are failing badly – except in some fundraising and campaigning related areas, where social activities like events are proving hugely successful.  Observing and adapting to this is a start.  An animated website and Facebook page just isn’t enough.

And here’s the rub.  Young, modern, cool people are now up to 65 years old.

So, fundraisers need to persuade their colleagues and leaders to listen to their audience rather than preaching at them.  We need to be relevant.  Charities need to get cool, and fast.  The youngsters will be retiring soon.


Alan Clayton is a partner at transformational fundraising organisation Clayton Burnett.



  1. Dr Clare Grave’s ‘Spiral Dynamics Model’ analyses common patterns in human nature and behavioural change from one stage to the next. For a brief introduction on the model and its various levels, go to


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