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Changing attitudes to charity?

By Stephen Burke 24 November 2014

What will younger generations think—and do—about charities in twenty years’ time?

Well, you could do worse than ask people working with that cohort now.

It’s not often you get chief executives and senior staff from children’s and families’ charities talking together about older people and our ageing society. But that’s what the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing managed to do at a recent roundtable.

There was a clear consensus that what these organisations are doing now will have a significant impact on our society in 2035 and beyond—the timeframe for the Commission’s work.

The roundtable welcomed this long-term view and urged the Commission to be bold in thinking about the kind of society we envisage in twenty years’ time and how the voluntary sector can flourish.

But there were considerable fears about the direction in which our society is going and the problems being stored up for generations ahead. This is creating big tensions between the state and the voluntary sector.

Older people are often seen as the glue holding our society together. But future generations would have different expectations and want different things from charities. They may want to focus more on issues and campaigns rather than supporting a specific charity year after year.

The relationship with donors would therefore need to be built much more around the issue and this would require much better use of data to target both donors and beneficiaries. Charities need the capacity to harness this and communicate better.

Future generations would also be more likely to dip in and out of volunteering, for example, to fit in with their other commitments and their desire to do their own thing. The voluntary sector will have a big challenge in balancing philanthropy against selfish motivations.

Family policy also needs to take more account of the role of grandparents and great-grandparents in the changing reality of family life in Britain, with different generations scattered across the globe. There are worries that inequalities will be exacerbated as wealth is cascaded down the generations with profound consequences that need to be better understood for the future of the sector.

Finally, many children’s and families’ charities are working together in partnership but few, if any, are working with older people’s charities, not even on inter-generational projects.

So while public policy encourages generations to be played off against each other, will the Commission encourage more collaboration for all ages? Clearly such collaboration must have a purpose but as the roundtable showed, we are all concerned about ensuring a flourishing voluntary sector and a fairer society for generations to come.