“Philanthropists will be younger and more diverse, and will want to see more evidence”: Chris Gethin on the future of major giving

Cancer Research UK

Inspired by a panel discussion he took part in at the Institute of Fundraising in January, our Director of Philanthropy, Chris Gethin, shares his thoughts on what major giving will look like in 10 years’ time

Over the next decade, I think philanthropy, and big philanthropy, will continue to grow in the UK and internationally. Wealthy people will get wealthier: in the past decade, the collective net worth of The Forbes 400, which is an annual tally of America’s richest people, has risen from $1.3trn to $3trn. And it’s estimated to double again over the next decade.

During this time, there will also be a huge transference of inter-generational wealth – estimated at around $3.9trn – which could significantly reduce the average age of our supporters. The current average age of the Forbes 400 is 67, and I would say it’s similar on this side of the pond. But a growing number of the very wealthy are now giving away large proportions of their wealth during their lifetimes – so-called ‘giving while living’ – or pledging to do so at their death by leaving a legacy. Whether this is because of a desire to help tackle urgent problems that need action now, like cancer, or simply to be able to enjoy the rewards of philanthropic giving and see its impact, the result is that more money is being donated now rather than later.

Linked to this, we’re already seeing increased inter-generational involvement in decision-making and engagement, which is leading to us, as fundraisers, viewing our prospects less as individuals or couples and more as families. I think this will continue.

We, as fundraisers, are committed to developing deeper relationships with supporters and offering them a variety of different ways to participate with our work and see the impact they are making.

Another factor that will bring down the average age of supporters is the increasing proportion of ‘new wealth’ – high-net-worth individuals whose wealth is self-made, rather than inherited. Many will be from the tech and financial sectors, and they will bring with them a more strategic approach to their philanthropy, as well as new perspectives as more women and international supporters enter the arena. They may also want to contribute their skills and knowledge to the causes they support, as well as their funds, and will undoubtedly expect to see more evidence on the impact of their donations.

This will present a challenge for some organisations. How they demonstrate their performance and measure success, and how they live their purpose and values in everything they do will be under more scrutiny than ever before and have greater influence in decision-making. And I imagine that the environmental impact of organisations will also be a consideration for many people.

There’s also the rise of ‘effective altruism’ – a philosophy and social movement that advocates using evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to do good. For example, providing long-lasting insecticidal nets to prevent malaria transmission rather than funding treatments for the disease. It’s about using both your heart and your head when giving your resources to help others to make sure what you’re doing is effective and well-directed.

With this will come an increased reliance on platforms such as GiveWell, which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to assessing and analysing the impact of charities to help philanthropists decide where to give. Currently, the site recommends just seven charities. But as fundraisers, it is also our role to help ensure our supporters give in the best way possible. And in terms of how people give, I think we’ll see a continued shift towards donor-advised funds (DAFs) or other philanthropic giving vehicles to help maximise the gift.

In return, our supporters will expect increased engagement with the organisations and individuals they are funding. We, as fundraisers, are committed to developing deeper relationships with supporters and offering them a variety of different ways to participate with our work and see the impact they are making. And thanks to technology, AI and improved data, we’ll be able to tailor reports and personalise updates more effectively.

Something that I think will not change in the next decade, if ever, is that most gifts will be given in response to an ask. Therefore, I believe the role of the fundraiser will begin to be better understood and more valued by organisations and society. But we have a role in helping to make this happen. Going forward, it’s the expert skills of the fundraiser and the quality, not quantity, of the asks that will ultimately drive success.

At Cancer Research UK, we’re constantly evolving our approach to ensure our supporters receive the best experience and their donations achieve maximum impact. And we look forward to continuing to adapt to support the philanthropists of the future.  

Chris Gethin has been Director of Philanthropy & Campaign at Cancer Research UK since 2017. He has over 30 years’ fundraising experience at charities and universities

If you’re looking to start a philanthropic journey with Cancer Research UK, please contact nicola.lightfoot@cancer.org.uk