The future of the voluntary sector, in 10 Christmas gifts

Having seen any number of Christmas gift guides and catalogues, I thought for my final blog of the year it might be fun to mull on what people are buying each other and think about what this might say about where the voluntary sector is heading.

So, here goes…

1. The ebook

The increasing popularity of digital readers and tablets are of course driving the sale of ebooks. I hear that Dan Brown is doing very well in the format, but the ‘long tail’ argument tells us that digital makes some things viable that once weren’t. I wonder to what extent ebooks might be play a part in the future of information and advice services? Or, as this blog argues, charity newsletters?


2. The loan

I love’s #DontSpendItLendIt hashtag. They’re one of an increasing number of microloan providers that are encouraging people to lend, not just give – highlighting that social investment isn’t just social impact bonds, and that social investment is definitely part of the future funding toolkit. So, dont buy, give.

3. The electric drill

It turns out that the average usage of an electric drill over its lifetime is 10 minutes. I in fact have more than one of these things, though I don’t think I received any of them as a Christmas gift.

Anyway, the mantra of the post-consumer society is sharing and specifically collaborative consumption. So, don’t buy, borrow. Which is a neat counterpart to the last point.

Cordless drill

4. The shoes

Or rather specifically, TOMS Shoes, which is based on a buy one, give one model. Or, buy one, someone else gets one free, if you prefer. TOMS Shoes isn’t without controversy – there’s some strong arguments against the model – but for those who aren’t about to leave consumer society it’s a fundraising model we may see more of in the UK?

5. The games console

We’ve managed to resist this one in the Wilding household this year, but the rise and pay of playing games – and the potential to tap into these behaviours to change attitudes – has not gone unnoticed by charities and policy makers alike. Gamification has been a trend for a few years that’s likely to continue. It’s also worth noting that the games console is a mechanism for a whole host of non-gaming activity – such as finding out about government services.

6. The membership subscription

Despite HMRC telling me that most membership subscriptions are not gifts – technically correct when it comes to gift aid – it’s nevertheless a popular Christmas gift to buy someone membership to a charity. Sociologists been concerned for sometime that membership is on the decline: but I’m convinced that tribalism is alive and that membership is very much the future of our sector. But in a digital world, its probably going to look very different…

7. The handmade item

Another take on post-commercialism is the idea that we’ve had enough of globalisation and the mass market – and the future is slow and local, maybe made at home. Add in a dose of digital and we can connect the Makers of personalised, handmade gifts with customers seeking something very individual. If in doubt, look at the success of Etsy. Maybe all a bit middle-class, but if Chris Anderson is right about more localised manufacturing, maybe the new economy will have a new geography – with profound implications for how we support communities.

Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2012

8. The wearable computer

Trendspotters have become obsessed with wearable computers – though we’re not quite there with the iWatch or Glass. In particular there’s interest in the rise of the ‘quantified self‘. At its simplest, this is the digital wristband that measures your heart rate and connects with your smartphone. But that’s just the beginning. This stuff is the future of public services, no less.

Wearable computer

9. The direct donation, aka the Unconditional Cash Transfer

In summary, this could sort of be described as charities just get in the way, technology means that we can give directly to people in less developed countries. This seems to me to be one of the most talked about approaches to philanthropy in the US at the moment, typified by Give Directly. In an era where administration costs are under scrutiny, this is one to watch.

10. The headphones

If the smartphone is the tech equivalent of bacon, then headphones are the eggs. Seemingly de rigueur for anybody boarding public transport, they’re yet another item that highlights a more personalised world. But I can’t but help think that they highlight a more isolated, atomised society, the sort of world described by the filter bubble. As such, their popularity says to me that our future role has to be about building bridges between communities.Headphones

Have a great Christmas, everybody!

Image credits

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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