All in the Family
[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a quarterly series of stories that we’re calling “The Leadership Series,” where leaders in the fundraising sector speak to big-picture issues that fundraisers need to think about over and above the day-to-day details of their jobs.]
Recently, my family sat around the dinner table discussing the fundraising appeals that had arrived with that day’s mail. Since fundraising is not just a family affair — it’s the family business — we tend to look for organizations that stand out, with compelling offers and relevant messaging.
On this evening, only one appeal met the test. A gift catalog from a conservation organization promised our family a wonderful experience and valuable lessons if we sponsored an animal they were working to protect.
This eye-catching effort spoke to us as a family, recognizing that this gift met not just the needs of the organization, but our needs as a family — to give to organizations making an impact, to teach our children about being charitable, to avoid the blatant commercialism of the holidays; in short, to change the world through our charitable support.
Today’s families most frequently are headed by baby boomers and Gen Xers, two generations that have radically increased their giving in recent years and are demanding that charities meet their unique needs as individuals. Family priorities override almost all others. They are the basis for the values of these important and influential groups.
Do your organization’s core messages reflect these values? Do they illustrate that you have a shared interest in their children?
What parents need
One of the most effective ways to illustrate that you know your supporters is to support them in the most important role they play — as parents. The most important fact to know about today’s donors is that their kids come first. Regardless of their generational label, their parenting role drives most of their purchasing and, thus, their donating behavior.
Boomers and leading-edge Gen Xers are demanding intimacy from their charities of choice. Because the need for highly personalized service and treatment is greater, many organizations are maintaining state-of-the-science relational databases that provide one view of a constituent or family’s relationship with the organization — as volunteer, service recipient, event participant. At the same time, advances in production technology have provided communication processes and tools with high levels of customization, allowing communication with these households on a very personal level and providing specific, relevant information.
Successful family-focused fundraising recognizes the priorities of today’s parents, including:
Managing their time: Today’s parents are pressed for time, juggling work, home and children’s schedules that look like diplomatic itineraries. Easy-to-use gift forms and online access will ease the way to donations.
Benefits of donating should include sites or portals for families that feature pre-screened, age-appropriate information, tips and tricks for family activities, or suggestions for how to plan a trip to visit your organization or work site. The Baltimore Aquarium does this exceedingly well by offering families tips on which days to visit, which entrances to use, and what exhibits to see when. If you’ve ever chased four 10-year-old boys around the shark tank, you know how valuable this type of guidance can be.
Affirming their parenting skills: Today’s parents were America’s first generation of “latch-key kids.” This leads to a lot of questions about the “right way” to raise children, a much bigger parenting section at Barnes & Noble, and a big opportunity for nonprofits to help them in this important job.
By explaining the importance of teaching philanthropy, you can assure parents that they are making the right decision in utilizing their giving to teach their children. This can be accomplished by using a parent spokesperson within your organization to speak to the challenges they face, establishing a positive peer-to-peer relationship, and putting your organization inside the circle of trust.
Ensuring the healthy development and safety of their children: Most organizations can apply this principle to their own missions by explaining how much better the world will be for future generations if the organization accomplishes its mission of __________ (feeding the hungry, saving the environment, curing disease, etc.).
Looking for value: Museums, zoos and science centers have long known that family memberships, sold at a discounted rate, are a draw for young families. This tactic also can be used successfully by organizations without a “gate” or entrance fee. If your standard annual membership is $15 for an individual, consider promoting a $20 family membership. It won’t require any additional benefits, and it might draw in more families at a higher-than-average gift.
Conveying ideals and values: At the same time, you can stress the role that the contribution plays in building the moral character of children, impressing upon them the principles of charity and responsibility. Millions of boomer parents are looking for ways to convey their own values and empower their children to continue their legacy of change. Family initiatives within organizations can meet this need.
Protecting their children: Smart fundraisers address their messages to the adults in the household, making them the gatekeepers and acknowledging their protection of their children’s privacy. While this usually is governed by common sense, it’s always a good idea to check your strategies against the Direct Marketing Association guidelines and the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act.
Not just about money
Family philanthropy initiatives can provide organizations with a growing source of revenue and can be bolstered, like all donor relationships, with additional involvement with the organization. The Web is an ideal channel for creating virtual communities online, connecting supporting families with more mission-related information to deepen their commitment, or enrolling them in advocacy efforts. Magazines, product catalogs or other publications for families or children provide another outlet for bonding them to the charity and maintaining a year-round presence in their home.
Philanthropy is, of course, not all about financial support. Volunteerism is a critical element for family philanthropy initiatives. Organizations with opportunities for full-family volunteering, such as animal shelters and food banks, truly can engage parents and children by allowing them to spend time together helping those in need.
Research conducted by the Daniel Yankelovich Group has deepened our understanding of what today’s — and tomorrow’s — volunteers are looking for in the organizations with which they become involved. They want to believe their volunteer time is spent meaningfully and is a reflection of their own personal values and ethics. Further, DYG reports volunteers increasingly say they want to be regarded for “who they are,” not just for “what they have.”
This is particularly true for Gen Xers. A 2001 United Way study found that these younger supporters are more likely to choose volunteer activities that challenge them, rely on their professional skills, and provide opportunities to connect with peers. America’s younger generations, in particular, represent a significant opportunity for those organizations that can successfully engage them and their children as volunteers, garnering their buy-in and, thus, their lifelong support.
The Independent Sector’s report, “Engaging Youth in Lifelong Service” (November 2002), found that the practice of volunteering begins, many times, in early, formative years. In fact, two-thirds of adult volunteers surveyed began giving their time as children. In addition, young volunteers are more likely to contribute to charities when they get older, meaning organizations establishing relationships with youths and cultivating those relationships into adulthood stand to substantially benefit from the future generosity of these valuable constituents.
Bill Richardson, CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has said, “We regard philanthropy as a habit of the heart that should be learned early and practiced often.”
Organizations can strengthen relationships with today’s parents by providing them with valuable tools for helping to raise the next generations. Like my son, many children are learning to give their time and money wisely, growing each day into the supporters we will all rely on tomorrow.
Kristin McCurry is a principal of Arlington, Va.-based consultancy MINDset direct.