What next for not-for-profits?

Not-for-Profits rely on trust. In an age when the reputation of the banking sector has been crushed and suspicion of corporates is high, customers are demanding ever-increasing transparency from organizations. Charities and social enterprises need to be above reproach in all aspects of their business. Recent bad press about the practice of ‘chugging’ has not helped a sector that can often be seen as old-fashioned and inflexible. It’s tough to fundraise during a recession, but tactics that can be seen as ‘strong arm’ can alienate as many potential customers as they attract.

The not-for-profit organizations that flourish in the next 5-10 years will be those that both engage Boomers (who are about to become the volunteers and direct-debiters that keep large charities afloat) as well as Generation Y who are very generous but hard to find and keep.  These young people put a very high value on trust and transparency. The better news for the sector is that they are hugely community-focused (that is the community they have chosen to support – not necessarily the town they live in), keen to ‘do good’ and supportive of causes they believe in.

They also have the benefit of, and instinct for, Social Media which lets them spread their support of a cause, or organization, within seconds. The gap between charities, particularly large ones, and their supporters can be very wide, and using Social Media as a tool to foster relationships and build trust will be a pre-requisite for not-for-profit success. But it has to translate into action – just clicking ‘like’ is not enough. The message needs to be clear (something that some big, established charities find surprisingly hard) and the call to action clearer still.  Movember is a great example of a charity that has utilized social media effectively to communicate a simple goal and activity to help it grow from just 450 participants in Australia in 2004 to over 854,000, raising £79m across 14 countries in 2011.  The fun factor undoubtedly helps as well – worthiness is not appealing  and certainly won’t impress Generations X and Y.

We’ve yet to touch the surface of what mobile technology will achieve.  However, not-for-profits, like other businesses, need to keep up with this radical change in consumer behaviour that has already been adopted by many- not just  the very young.  Apps such as Sparkwise allow charities to be transparent and engaging by using data visualisations to report key facts and individual stories, whilst also presenting users with a direct link to getting involved.

Yael Cohen is a 25-year old from Vancouver who set up F*** Cancer a not-f0r-profit that encourages and supports Generation Y to engage with their parents about early detection of cancer.  She has written How to convince Gen Y to believe in your cause and your company, which gives some great insights in how not-for-profits (and all businesses) can engage better with Gen Y.

But finally, charities should beware the Social Enterprise sector.  Gen Y may be moral and generous, but they are also highly entrepreneurial and don’t see ‘profit’ as a dirty word. Innovative and energetic start-ups will appeal and engage – and may leave traditional charities struggling to keep up….

We’d love to know your thoughts on where not-for-profits and social enterprises are headed, especially if you work in this very singular sector!

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