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Why young professionals are forging deeper connections with charitable causes


Jenny Ramage explores why and how young City professionals are seeking opportunities to engage with charities on a much deeper level than previous generations.


When 27-year old City worker Nick Kershaw signed up for the Iron Man challenge last year, he took the audacious decision not to ask all his mates to sponsor him. “I didn’t feel there was anything that really represented my beliefs in what charitable giving should look like, or anything I really connected with on a level where I could go to my friends - again - and ask them to donate”, he says. 

Nick says he isn’t the only one feeling this - it’s become quite a pertinent issue among his peers. “I think young professionals are very sceptical of giving to large charitable organisations. Not because they aren’t doing good, but because there is a lack of transparency and a lack of connection.  

“With a lot of giving for these kinds of challenges, you get your credit card out, you do it for your mate, and that’s where the relationship ends. You never really get to see the product of what you’ve created with that money and the impact you’ve had.”


New inspiration

It was this disillusionment with the 'traditional' charity relationship that prompted Nick to approach, and subsequently become a member of, Inspired 50, the Adventure Philanthropy Network. Made up of City people who undertake extreme challenges such as running multiple marathons, rowing the Atlantic, or building schools in remote desert villages, the idea is to raise money for the community you’re doing the event in, and get close enough to the project that you form a deep understanding of the need.  

“There’s a movement out there of younger people doing these amazing challenges for charity, and we thought it would be great to package this up in a way that inspires others”, says Cheryl Chapman, director at City Philanthropy, which seed funded the Inspired 50 Network. “It’s so right for the City, that work hard, play hard mentality.”  

The Inspired 50 is just one of a number of new philanthropy networks that have sprung up in the last few years, in response to the gradual yet seismic shift in philanthropic attitudes and behaviours since acquired wealth overtook inherited wealth on The Giving List

“The profile of philanthropy is different now”, says Cheryl. “Whereas inheritors think of themselves more in terms of stewards of money, and they tend to be less risky, entrepreneurs who have taken risks and seen the pay-off in their own businesses are more likely to give like that, and to take more risks. And they give to more entrepreneurial organisations too. So I think there is a different mindset, and different values and beliefs, between inherited wealth and self-made wealth, and that’s reflected in philanthropy today.” 


Meaningful connections

Nick Mason, head of portfolio and impact at BeyondMe, an organisation that matches young city philanthropists with charities for 12-month 'money plus skills' programmes, says the initiative was set up in recognition of a problem with the way professionals were engaging with the social sector. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want to have relationships with the charities they were passionate about, just that there was no platform through which they could have a meaningful connection”, he says. “By this, I mean a connection that is sustained and that extends beyond the traditional fundraising relationship and the one-day corporate volunteering offers they get from their businesses.” 

A term has been coined in the City: ‘skillanthropy’. Professionals don't just want to give money; they also want opportunities to use the skills they’ve acquired in their day jobs for good purposes. As Cheryl Chapman explains: “Some programmes will ask City workers to donate two hours of their time each month, as well as make a small financial contribution. It’s a great way that City people can utilise the core skills they use in their everyday jobs to create a social impact. Conversely, they are also acquiring all kinds of skills that they can take back and apply in their professional lives.” 

In a similar programme, Spark Inside, a charity that aims to reduce reoffending and increase productivity for young people in the criminal justice system, was selected by a team from BeyondMe to receive support for their new prison officer coaching and skills training programme. Baillie Aaron, the charity's founder and CEO, explains: “As a small charity with a small team, we just didn’t have the time to do all the market research needed to develop the programme or put together the business plan. So the BeyondMe team have come on board to do everything from the market research into the programme, the stats, background, costings, feasibility, through to programme development. They are remarkable.” 

This desire to get really hands-on with charitable projects is a marked trend among entrepreneurs and City millennials, according to Cheryl. “They like this idea of 'high impact, high touch, high engagement'. They get very involved with whatever project they are doing because they’ve got all these skills, and they really feel they can offer more than just money.”  

Giving supporters the opportunity to get really close to the cause in this way can reap rewards both for them, and for the charities they are working with. “People give a lot more when they feel connected with the project”, says Nick Kershaw. “Not just in terms of money, but in terms of their time and their love for what you’re doing. That’s what really creates the emotional connection, and makes it different from just donating, or bidding at a charity auction. You’re more emotionally invested.”


All about impact 

Millennial philanthropists also tend to be more strategic, analytical and impact driven than previous generations. 

When it comes to financial giving, “modern philanthropists are very concerned about impact and whether they are spending their money well and achieving what they want to achieve", says Cheryl. 

Nick Mason says the same principles apply to giving time. “Professionals are becoming more and more impact savvy and careful about the decisions they’re making with regard to what charities they work with, so when asked to offer their time, they will carefully consider whether that time is going to be used to tackle the critical needs of that organisation, or whether it’s something that organisation is just using as a vehicle for a corporate partnership.” 

Becca Dean, director and co-founder of The Girls’ Network, another charity receiving assistance from a BeyondMe team, says the team's selection procedure was very thorough. “It was a very rigorous process, looking at our accounts and business plan and our five-year strategy. But this is good; it’s made us evaluate everything we’re doing. Being asked those questions actually helps strengthen us as we move forward.”


Small is beautiful

Nick says the BeyondMe team members have a strong preference for working with smaller organisations. “A third of the charities in our portfolio have between two and five staff members, and this, I think, reflects that desire to have a close relationship with the organisation and to get involved at a fairly senior level.”  

Young philanthropists also seem to be drawn to younger, more flexible charities who aren’t afraid to be innovative.  

Chief Executive Sophie Livingstone, whose youth and education charity City Year UK is receiving help from a BeyondMe team, said:  “I think what they really like about us is because we are only five years old, they can develop with us and help us raise our profile and grow, and they can really get on board with that development of our charity, which they might not get with the bigger charities.” 

Causal area is also a factor when looking at trends among young philanthropists. There is a preference for critical needs and frontline issues such as education, employability, gender equality, poverty and children and young people. Traditionally less popular causes, such as sex trafficking and domestic abuse, are favoured too. “They tend to be more open to taking those issues on, and they give in a way that is strategic, so trying to address the cause rather than the symptoms”, says Cheryl.


A giving generation 

"We want to make this generation of professionals the most effective donors and givers of any generation previously", says BeyondMe's Nick Mason. Part of that, he say, is about developing relationships with the charities that extend beyond the 12 month programme. "Of the 45 teams we launched up to November last year, a good majority chose to continue their relationship with that charity, or at least stay committed to giving to the same causal area." 

To achieve long-term engagement with today's young professionals, charities need to be flexible enough to accommodate the changing attitudes of perspectives of this group. By offering tangible and specific projects that young professionals can get really close to, and which utilise their professional experience, organisations can benefit hugely from the vast range of skills the City has to offer.


Jenny Ramage is editor of The Fundraiser.

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