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Innovate Blog: What do we know about the future of donations?

By Martin Wilson, Innovation Scout

RNLI Welly filled with coins on the beach

Photo: RNLI / Nigel Millard

The world we live in is changing at an amazing pace. 

People are quickly adopting new behaviours which radically alter the way they interact with the world around them. You can see this in the way people now shop, sell and donate. And since we’re an increasingly cashless society, fewer people are carrying coins and notes to put in the collection boxes they pass. This really matters to charities – without cash donations, many would struggle to survive. 

The good news? The charity sector – and the tech industry – has seen this risk coming. We’re sure to see a steady flow of shiny new fundraising tools coming to market, all promising to be the ‘next big thing’. 

But this poses an interesting question for the RNLI – how can we make a meaningful contribution to the future of donations?

How often do you pay for things in cash?

In 2006, 62% of all payments were made with cash. Just 10 years later, this had dropped to 40% – and it’s predicted to fall to 21% by 2026.

Meanwhile, digital payments have grown rapidly. In 2017, debit cards became more popular than cash – with contactless cards accounting for 15% of all payments


What is the RNLI doing?

Back in May, the RNLI started a 3-month-long sprint to explore the future of donations, imagining a world where charities allowed supporters to donate how, when and where they liked. 

We began by getting together with people from the charity, finance and technology world to look at what factors they thought would impact donations over the next 10 years. We then used this data as the starting point for a 2-day workshop (thanks to digital agency ekino for providing the space). 

The future of donations workshop

Photo: RNLI

During the workshop, we were joined by 31 subject matter experts and identified the market ‘pull’ (trends and drivers, services and solutions) and the developmental ‘push’ from emerging technologies.

We saw themes forming around these five areas:

Using artificial intelligence (AI) 

Virtual assistance, through voice interaction and chatbots, can deliver a higher level of personalisation for donors – this could help charities to find and keep supporters.  

Better data integration

We felt that APIs (application programming interfaces) could facilitate a world where donating is fully entwined with your life. However, to develop these APIs, there would need to be collaboration across the charity sector. 

Building better connections

We can already see virtual, augmented and mixed reality being used to deliver better donor experiences – for example, Stand Up To Cancer's Journey to the Frontline virtual reality tour and Amnesty International’s I am Rohingya virtual reality documentary. However, we think there’s potential to go beyond purely digital experiences and into the physical, like the powerful poverty tour bus campaign from The Salvation Army.  

Creating micro-donation products that people want 

Optimising financial transactions so that people can donate a small amount of money (under £5) is key. For example, when you're given the option to round up your bill and donate the change to charity. In the long-term, these technologies could provide new, smarter solutions for gifting a donation. 

Readiness for a cash-free society

The decline in the use of cash and the development of new technologies will help us move towards alternatives for the traditional collection box. This could begin with using near-field communication (NFC) and quick response (QR) codes as a low-cost, easy introduction to cash-free giving. Ultimately, this could lead to a wider introduction of contactless technology and the adoption of digital wallets. 
We explored these themes further and developed them into a coherent, joint vision for the future of charitable donation.

Post-it notes during the workshop on the future of donations

Photo: RNLI

What’s next?

The charity fundraising community now has an opportunity to collaborate and take new initiatives to market.

Technological developments will allow the sector to use the data they have access to in much better ways, either through integrated services and platforms, or through the introduction of artificial intelligence. 

There will be greater opportunity to build meaningful connections with prospective and existing donors through relevant, targeted messaging, experiential opportunities and sharing what has been achieved with their support. 

Although we’re still in the early stages, we think our initial work could pave an exciting path for charities, so supporters can donate how, when and where they like.

If you'd like to contribute to the discussion, join our future of donations review group on LinkedIn