Younger Donors Are a Waste of Time
We are a society that values youth. We want to look young, feel young, be young—forever it seems. Billions of dollars are spent trying to recapture a youthful look. I would say our society is absolutely obsessed with it.
And, as Richard and I meet major gift officers and fundraising professionals around the country, it’s no different. You love young donors. “Gosh, our donor file is getting so old. We have to bring in more new donors.” “If we don’t start acquiring younger major donors, we won’t be around in a few years.” It goes on and on.
Just recently I was asking a major gift officer what she was most concerned about these days, and she said, “Well, our major donor file is full of old people.” I said, “Huh? You should be shouting for joy from the rooftops. You should be so lucky that you have old donors.”
You see, “old people,” ages 60 to 85, is a major gift officer's gold mine. These are the folks who hold the wealth in this country. Yet, you are constantly lamenting that you need younger donors.
Don’t worry about younger donors. They are doing fine in your direct-response and mid-level programs. (Hopefully you have one of those.) They are busy still getting their children through college and paying off debt. Take good care of them in those programs.
Now, of course there always will be exceptions. But the vast majority of major donors are going to be between ages 60 and 85.
Are you comfortable with that?
I’m not so sure. I’m thinking you are very uncomfortable with that. Perhaps one of the reasons you are obsessed with young donors is that you can relate to them better.
I can understand that. It’s not easy to relate to others who may be of another generation than you. It feels unnatural to relate to others who may be 30 to 50 years older than you.
This is where you really need to practice empathy. Empathy, quite simply, is placing yourself in someone else’s shoes. You are trying to understand who they are so you can better relate to them. Here are some ways to empathize with an older major donor.
- Visit an estate attorney and ask questions about what his or her clients are worried about—this will give you insight on how wealthy elderly people are thinking about their wealth and leaving it behind. It will help you understand what their desires are for what they specifically want to do with their money.
- Sit down with a financial planner and find out what older people with great wealth are worried about as they retire and also 10 to 15 years after they retire—this allows you to understand “their” issues.
- Go to the AARP website and read the issues retired people are concerned about—read articles on health, food, vacation spots, etc., that retired folks are interested in.
- Schedule a meeting with a director of a high-end senior living facility—this will give you great insight on what your older major donors care about—how they live, what issues they have and what they worry about.
- Visit your major donors in their homes—go in without a solicitation agenda. Your agenda is to really get to know them, find out how they live and be with them in their environment.
Remember, having older donors on your donor file is a wonderful thing. They are the donors who have the wealth to fuel your programs. Don’t worry about those younger donors. They’ll be along in 20 to 30 years.
For now, these are the donors you want to focus your time and energy on. And, if you don’t feel comfortable with that, perhaps you should find another profession. Because if you want to be a major gift officer, you have to embrace it.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.