The Future of Fundraising: What a Difference Five Years Will Make
I have looked the future of fundraising in the face. More like 83 million faces, with the oldest just reaching 30.
Yes, the millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000, are coming. And, yes, they are the largest generation in American history. (Sorry fellow boomers, we’ve been usurped.)
If you’re like most fundraisers right now, you’re probably saying, “OK, no big deal, if the oldest are only now reaching 30, then we’ll begin soliciting them in 20 years or so.”
But you don’t have that long. You have about five years. Tops. Here’s why. At the moment, baby boomers represent about 70 percent of the nation’s generated personal income. That obviously means they are the largest and most influential donors and supporters of nonprofits of all kinds. Millennials currently represent only 5 percent.
But, starting this year, boomers will be retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. Let me repeat that … 10,000. A day. This means that by 2016, boomers will represent only 20 percent of all income, while the millennials will rise to 55 percent.
That’s 2016, not 2031. I’m certainly no math wiz, but even I know that’s just five years from now. (But I do admit counting with my fingers.)
So what does this mean for fundraisers today?
The first and most obvious answer is you better get started building relationships with millennials. And I mean right away. Today. But forget trying to do so through direct mail.
While a recent survey indicates that of all donors, across all age groups, 61 percent have stated a preference for online giving, 89 percent of millennials state this preference.
Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is the generation that didn’t need to adopt technology as it came along. It was born into it. (In fact, I’m pretty sure my own millennial daughter came out of the womb texting.)
Millennials and technology are synonymous. It’s how they relate to the world and each other. So it’s how they are going to relate to your organization, too.
In addition to communicating with and engaging millennials via all the usual means — websites, social networks, microsites, banners, mobile, digital and analog out-of-home, digital video and television, texting, e-mail, blogs, QR codes, video telecommunications, and other multiscreen consumer environments — I believe we will also see a significant growth in affinity group texting.
Texting is the preferred means of communicating for millennials
As this generation is its own tribe, and texting is its preferred means of communication, then it will continue to embrace affinity group texting in big numbers.
Adopting texting technologies that will foster and enable community building is what fundraisers should be doing now if you want your organization or cause to become a totem for this tribe.
But don’t show up in these mediums and start selling or pleading your case for giving unless you do so with authenticity and transparency. Not only has this group grown up with technology, it can also smell insincerity a mile away. This generation of donors will most likely first become fans, then donors and volunteers.
According to Pew Research Center, millennials are also the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, the most politically progressive, the least religiously observant, and are more inclined toward trust in institutions than either of their two predecessor generations — Gen Xers (now 30 to 45) and baby boomers (now 46 to 64).
Also, millennials who are currently graduating college are turning to public-service jobs in rising numbers. You should make certain you are taking these factors into consideration if you want to begin communicating and building relationships with them.
This new five-year reality also has great significance for baby boomers, and it means adapting how and what we communicate with them. Since boomers are retiring at such a fast rate and in such high numbers, fundraisers would be wise to increase their planned-giving appeals and communications while shoring up their planned-giving staffs.
Boomers may be retiring, but they still want to affect the world around them. Planned giving will be their way of ensuring this still happens when leaving their legacy. And leaving bequests and planned gifts will occur in the kinds of numbers that have marked every other stage of their lives.
Also, as others have already noted about retiring boomers, this means there will be a rapidly growing supply of ready and willing volunteers who are looking for opportunities to still make a difference through your organization or cause.
But don’t just give this group busy work, or you’ll lose it. Make certain that you are enabling boomers to contribute their time and energy in tangible and meaningful ways.
Since millennials and boomers are the two largest generations in this country’s history thus far, it only stands to reason that they have and will continue to shape the present and the future. And that has obvious implications for those of us involved in fundraising.
Our industry will look very different five years from now. The future is coming fast. Just hold up your hand and count.
When he’s not counting on his fingers, Richard DeVeau is using them to write and direct integrated fundraising communications at Richard DeVeau Creative.