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20 predictions for the future – how might the charity world have changed in 20 years?

What will world the world look like for charities 20 years from now? Joe Saxton shares some of his predictions for how the third sector might grow and change - for better or for worse - in the years to come.
Joe Saxton

With 2020 just around the corner, I’ve been thinking - what will world the world look like for charities 20 years from now? This blog is a write-up of a presentation we did for some of our clients, pulling together our work with over 150 charities in the last decade, our regular surveys of the public, politicians, donors and journalists, and my intuition. It is a summary of my predictions from a longer report which you can find here.


  1. Farewell to direct debits. The challenges of GDPR and new fundraising regulations on donor recruitment mean that direct debits will be a shadow of their former status as a fundraising powerhouse.
  2. Tin-rattling, cheques, door-to-doors, and cash collections will be a thing of the past. As cash disappears, the whole idea of giving ‘loose change’ becomes meaningless, so any fundraising based on these mechanisms becomes redundant.
  3. Young people’s giving will be transactional and social. We are already seeing how young people’s giving methods are much more centred around social lives and social media. Expect this trend to grow.
  4. Lotteries, events and major donors will be thriving; lotteries because people like the idea of getting something back from their giving, events because of their appealing social and lifestyle elements, and major donors because of a predicted rise in those who want to give their wealth away before they die (baby boomers).
  5. We are currently in a legacy feast with a cohort of rich and idealistic baby boomers approaching retirement and old age. 20 years from now, the baby boomer legacy feast will nearly be over… and then legacy famine looms as the following generation, who are less likely to have houses or good pensions, reach old age.
  6. People hardly notice how fundraising for hospices, PTAs, lifeboats and more is now part of supporting ‘public’ services. Charity fundraising to complement public service provision will be increasingly mainstream, with the need to top-up the public purse taken for granted.
  7. Put all these trends together and the prediction is that non-legacy donations will have dropped by at least 50%, and fundraising costs are unlikely to have decreased proportionately.


  1. The numbers of older people volunteering will be in decline due to rising pension age and poorer pension provision. It’s the same pattern as the legacy boom followed by a decline.
  2. Volunteering will be an integral part of young people’s personal development. We’ve already seen a rise in youth volunteering since the millennium, reflecting a growing need to develop skills and experience for the world of work. I expect that trend to be integrated more closely into institutions and employment. ‘Workenteering’, I call it.
  3. Fundraising job roles differentiated well over 30 years ago and never looked back. However, most charities still just have a ‘Volunteer Manager’. In 20 years, the differentiation of paid volunteering supervisory roles will have followed the pattern set by fundraising.
  4. Volunteering will be increasingly focused around community and personal benefits – ‘selfish’ volunteering. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it makes volunteering much easier to manage and market.

Communications, campaigns and social media

  1. Campaigning is just another strategy for delivering the mission, and typically, a cost-effective way to do it. Twenty years from now, campaigning and social change action will be mainstream aspects of most charities’ and communities’ activities.
  2. Social media is already a key way that charities can punch above their weight to receive attention and reach new audiences. Moreover, they can use it to bypass an indifferent/hostile mainstream media. Expect social media to be a core activity (like accounts!)
  3. Our one size fits all legal definition of ‘charity’ is not helpful for charities or public perceptions of them. In twenty years, new legal forms will be found to reflect the diversity of the charity sector.
  4. Our research shows that cancer is consistently the public’s favourite cause. The work of charities to improve the survival rate of those with cancer is one of the great success stories of our time. The downside of this relative success, though, is that it may not retain its slot in public affection in the years to come. It remains to be seen what could take its place as the public’s favourite cause.

Governance and mission delivery

  1. Today, few (if any) charities recruit their CEO through a person saying ‘I know so-and-so, they would be good for the job’. In twenty years, they won’t recruit their trustees that way either. In other words, the quality of charity governance and trusteeship will be taken as seriously as the roles of CEOs.
  2. For the last few decades, the government has outsourced various services to companies (e.g. British Waterways becoming the Canal & River Trust). Increasingly, the government will use charities as a more acceptable face for privatisation; this means an increasing portion of charity activity will be devoted to delivering government services.

And some things never change

  1. Newspapers and the media will still love having a go at charities, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. It’s hard to see this changing. Sad really. Some good scrutiny based on a detailed understanding by journalists would be good, but that’s not what we get.
  2. The sector has never found a soundbite that really makes the public ‘get’ why CEOs need to be paid a decent salary. In twenty years, I expect the pay of charity CEOs will still be an issue.
  3. Charities will still be on the cusp of a digital revolution. Just around the corner. Coming soon. The shiny new app that will have everybody giving digitally. Sadly I (Joe Saxton, not all of us here at nfpSynergy!) don’t think so.

Do you think I'm wrong, and/or have I missed anything out? Let us know in the comments section below! And don't forget - you can read the full report of my predictions here.



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