05/12/2014 06:17 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 05:59 GMT

A New Generation as Generous as its Grandparents

This week's UK launch of #Giving Tuesday was a welcome antidote to #Black Friday and #Cyber Monday and I hope it's raised a lot of much needed money for good causes. But, does linking the day to two new juggernauts of consumerism, perversely perpetuate the idea that giving is only about money and the rattling of Christmas collection tins?

I say this, because I spoke at a Philanthropy Impact event this week about encouraging a culture of giving among young people. With more than half the donations in the UK coming from the over-60s, there's some concern that young people may be less engaged than their grandparents, raising questions about the long term implications for the charity sector. According to the Charities Aid Foundation's Mind the Gap report, the 'Generosity Gap' has been widening for the last 30 years. The over-60s are now more than six times more generous than the under-30s. Three decades ago they were less than three times more generous.

But, before we sound the death knell for charity and pass the blame on to the under-30s, let's take a look at both the broader context and a wider definition of giving. It offers a different perspective.

First, there's the economic reality. In recent years, at least, young people have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession. Average incomes of those in their 20s fell by over 10 per cent, while the over-60s saw theirs rise by more than 2 per cent. The Institute of Fiscal Studies says that most retired people are now better off than they were on average over their working lives.

Second, while they might not have the means to donate as much money, there's no evidence of a lack of social conscience among under-30s. They simply give what they have; their talent, time, energy and enthusiasm.

Back in February this year, Demos introduced us to Generation Citizen. Taking a detailed look at the last cohort of Generation Y, the think-tank found a group of 14-17 year olds having a positive impact through social enterprise, social media and volunteering. Teachers described them as 'caring' and 'enthusiastic' and felt that teenagers today are more likely to volunteer for good causes and set up their own group, movement or socially motivated project than previous generations. Only last month, Ipsos Mori also found that over three million 10-20 year olds are taking part in social action in the UK.

We know that those who get involved with charities young are more likely to stay involved, so in terms of encouraging a new generation of givers, this is all good news.

But, I'd add one word of warning. Although the participation figures look strong, according to Ipsos Mori, fewer than half of those who'd taken part in social action felt that they, or others, had benefited 'a lot'. Of those who gave a reason why not, over a fifth said it was too short lived (a one-off) and 13 per cent said they either hadn't learnt anything or didn't have a say in the activity.

In my experience, young people want 'to be the change they wish to see in the world'. Seeing their own impact is really important, as is making new friends, access to new networks and experiences and, with an eye to the difficult job market, developing their own skills and employment prospects. Just writing a cheque (if they even have a cheque book!) and walking away is an anathema to them. It's up to charities to understand and respond accordingly.

And, as the ice bucket and #nomakeupselfie campaigns have shown, engagement also doesn't need to be too worthy. Even 100 years ago, Eglantyne Jebb, of Save the Children, said:

"Relief work does not consist entirely... in wearisome meetings, wearisome appeals, wearisome statistics, and a yet more wearisome struggle against uninteresting misery. It has its moments of enchantment, its adventures, its unexpected vistas into new worlds."

I'm CEO of a charity, City Year UK which has deliberately woven meaning and adventure into its culture and it works. When we launched, nearly five years ago, people said 18-25 year olds would never give a year to volunteer in inner-city UK schools. How wrong they were. We launch in our third city next year and this summer will celebrate the graduation of our 500th volunteer.

So in summary, while we are enormously grateful to the baby boomers for digging deep into their pockets for so many years, I believe there is a new generation waiting in the wings who, if their current 'giving' is anything to go by, will be just as, if not more generous in ways that only they will determine. And finally, Generation Y has been given a label it both deserves and can be proud of; it's about time Generation Citizen was recognised for its contribution.