Don’t Write the Older Donors Off
There is something about social media and online communications that twists many people’s heads around to conclude that the up-and-coming Millennial cohort is where the money is. Couple this conclusion with a “direct mail is dead” view, and you have a deadly combination of insider positions that will kill a major gift program.
Jeff and I have heard this hundreds of times: “Look, direct mail is for the old people. We need to reach out to the new people. That is where the opportunity is!” And we reply: “Hold it, direct mail still works as does much of the tried-and-true strategies. And don’t forget that most of the money that is given each year comes from those ‘old people.’”
Now, I am not doing a defense of direct mail in this post. All I want to point out is that personal preference, not facts, often drives strategy design. And allowing that to happen will run your major gift program into the ground.
Because direct mail and “older” strategies most often fill the major gift pipeline. Couple this truth with the fact that the Millennial and Gen X groups just do not give as much as the Boomers and Matures—at least not yet. And spending a ton of time trying to persuade them to give, at the level the others give, is a waste of time and resources.
“But he said at least not yet,” someone will say. “Richard acknowledged that they will, eventually, give more.” And that is the other trap fundraising strategists fall into—the belief that there is promise right around the corner, so you need to invest right now. Don’t do it, or if you do, do it carefully and thoughtfully.
But someone when they read this is likely to say that it is foolish not to do something with the younger generations. I mean, “they are our future.” And I would agree. You do need to develop your social media and your online giving strategies. And you do need to have a space in your brain to design new and innovative approaches to these donors. And it needs to be done well. I agree, it is important to create relationships and offers for younger donors.
But the point of this piece is to keep things balanced. Don’t do what Jeff and I heard in one meeting: “Look, we are a new and modern organization. Our brand is targeting younger people who want to make a difference. So using those strategies for older donors will not work for us.”
Just think about this for a second. Those older donors are giving $92.6 billion, while the younger donors are giving $44.7 billion, and you are just going to ignore the older ones?
This is where people think that creating strategies offers and asks for older donors will somehow hurt their brand. Like there are certain causes or societal problems that only young people care about. See how this goes? It doesn’t make sense.
It is true that the $44.7 billion the younger donors are giving is nothing to sneeze at. But all Jeff and I are saying is this. Do not ignore the older donors in your strategy design for major gifts. They have the resources. And they want to help. And just because your cause is packaged as a hip modern trendy thing doesn’t mean the older donors won’t want to jump on board.
Why do I know this is true?
Because donors will give to the solution to the problem you are promising to solve, not because your brand is nice, shiny, new, modern, etc. It is a societal problem you are addressing. It is the way you are doing that. It is about how effective you are at using their money to do it. It is all of this that brings the donor on board to partner with you. Get that wrong and no amount of brand dressing will help. Believe me. Get it right, add some good branding and it will help. But the core thing is the promise you can make to solve the problem.
Jeff and I, and our team of Veritus Group colleagues, spend a great deal of time thinking about all the donor groups. And you should to. Think and plan for all of them. Do not, because of personal preference, eliminate the older donors from your planning and thinking.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.