The Quest for Younger Donors
Is your CEO concerned that your donor base is aging? Is your board pressing you to target younger donors? Are your younger staff members bemoaning the fact that your marketing materials aren't relevant anymore?
They're all wrong.
When I entered the direct-response fundraising world in 1985, everyone was terrified that donor files were aging and that the younger folks, dubbed "baby boomers," were not giving. What would we do?
Russ Reid, the founder of the firm that still bears his name, smiled and said, "Stop worrying; they'll give when they turn 45." Sure enough, as they crossed the magic threshold, baby boomers have, indeed, become a most generous cohort and have fueled (and will continue to fuel) philanthropy for years.
Now that senior baby boomers are turning 65, some nonprofits are again frantic that their boomer-rich donor files are aging and young people aren't giving. Some are even investing big bucks in trying to get 20- to 40-year-olds to give. And when it fails, they claim, in their most sincere revisionist tones, that the objective was really to engage and begin to build a relationship with these donors of the future. Puh-lease!
Your staff members are likely far younger than your donors. My friend, Bernard Ross, director of The Management Centre, often begins his brilliant sessions with nonprofit organizations by having people write five words on a piece of paper and keep the paper in front of them. The words? "I Am Not The Audience." Your staff's choices of media, design, messages, spokespeople, music and donating behavior are not the same as those of your donors.
We've all heard the argument that we need to target 20- to 40-year-olds because we'll have them on the file that much longer. Or because they'll be more likely to give to us when they're more ready and able to give.
Tom Harrison is the former chair of Russ Reid and Omnicom's Nonprofit Group of Agencies. He served as chair of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.