February 16, 2017

Generational Fundraising

Being clear in what your organization does, who it serves, and how it tries to accomplish its goals needs to be clear in all your messaging – regardless of who you talk to. Older donors may continue giving out of a sense of loyalty, but even they will not be motivated to make a major gift unless your mission and purpose is clearly defined, and your vision and values is in alignment with their own values.

That said, there are a few distinctions that may require you to modify your approach and your message. Please note that these are meant to offer only a strategic roadmap for planning donor engagement. The best major fundraising programs find ways to tailor their messages to each individual gift prospect.

Baby Boomers tend to favor traditional institutions: their churches, their university, etc. They tend to respond to mail appeals better than any of the other generations, and are least comfortable with online giving, or fundraising through social media. Their involvement tends to be primarily as financial contributors, but do not underestimate their volunteer potential if the right opportunity is presented. Donors of this generation should definitely be on your radar for planned gifts. They can be extremely valuable as members on your board, but can also at times express that their social connections for major gift work “are not what they used to be”.

Gen-Xers tend to stay away from traditional institutions and look for nonprofits they believe will make a significant impact in the areas they feel most strongly about. While loyalty was a key factor for Boomers, Gen-Xers will give to “traditional” institutions as long as they believe those institutions are innovating and changing lives. Boomers give because they have faith in the organization, Gen-Xers give if the organization can demonstrate that their faith in the institution is justified. Organizations need to prove themselves before the Gen-Xer will make an investment. On the other hand, Gen-Xers also tend to go “all-in”, meaning once an organization has earned their trust and support, Gen-Xers will look for other opportunities to further their cause. This generation is primed for leadership roles on your board and on key fundraising and program initiatives. In addition to major gifts, Gen-Xers should also not be overlooked at potential planned giving prospects.

Gen-Xers are very comfortable with online giving and are savvy donors. Your website must absolutely be equipped to handle online contributions. Gen-Xers will respond to email campaigns, and will readily consider automatic monthly contributions if the process is easy for them to set-up and cancel when needed. In addition, your website needs to provide a lot of information about the organization and the impact it is making. Transparency is key.

Organizations need to make their case thoroughly, do it well, and present a clear opportunity for the Gen-Xers to act on. They will give and potentially contribute quite significantly, but they need to know that what their investment of time and money has significant impact, and aligns with their concerns and values.

Millennials are a generation that at times still struggles in certain aspects of their lives. Many are caught between a soft job market and high student loans. Some are still looking to establish themselves professionally and personally, looking to start a career, a family, and getting settled on their own.

Despite all that, Millennials are generally a rather optimistic generation in the sense that they feel, as a whole, that there isn’t a problem that could not be tackled and solved. They are the most diverse and most integrated generation of our lifetime. Naturally, social media fundraising and crowd sourcing tends to work best with Millennials.

Millennials value connectedness above all else. Where Gen-Xers want outcomes, Millennials need inclusion. It is less important to them that an organization is 100% successful in achieving their objectives, but it is critical that the organization communicates with Millennial supporters what they did, and how they did it. Millennials value effort and engagement, they won’t forgive an organization that makes them feel unneeded, overlooked, or underappreciated.

Millennials feel that they have a lot to offer, and in fact they do have a lot to offer. It is up to the organization to meet the needs of this audience. To Millennials, their time and their skills are equally as important as their money – if not more. They may not be able to write a check, but they will give you an afternoon of their time. While Boomers often first connect to an organization by making a gift, Millennials initially connect by volunteering or participating in an event. Special events are important to

Millennials, but not the black-tie kind of events. Even if the financial returns aren’t immediately coming from this generation, it is vital for the long-term success of any organization to find ways to connect with and nurture their relationship with Millennials. Major gifts are not yet coming from this generation in large numbers – but they will in time. Organizations would do well to be inclusive of Millennials, and position themselves as a part of their lives now.

About Marc Huber

Marc Huber is a fundraising professional with over seventeen years of experience, including strategic messaging, board development, annual giving, capital campaigns, and volunteer consultation and training. He's also the author of The Fundraising Co-Pilot.

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