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Generational Fundraising – How it is developing

Howard Lake | 9 June 2008 | Blogs

Fundraisers are now obliged to pay attention to the differences between generational cohorts, because not only react very differently to fundraising materials and techniques, but they react differently to the very media those appeals are delivered through. Indeed, the possible media is fragmenting into units which will not sustain fundraising ratios and maintain organisations thirst for increasing revenues unless they are very carefully targeted. Even then, the lack of precision in cohort analysis and the evolving nature of new and old media gives fundraisers an unenviable task, in which failure to understand and react positively to generational attitudes and media evolution can spell financial disaster.
Some years back it was sufficient to survey an organisations membership or supporters and learn the demographics and hence the attitudes of the average donor. This often turned out to be an elderly lady and fundraisers became proficient at writing appeal letters to her. This generation is now known broadly as the seniors or in the UK as Dorothy Donor.
Table 1 – ‘Generational Giving’
Age cohort Media preference
Seniors 1901 – 1924 Letter
Silents 1925 – 1945 Letter
Boomers 1946 – 1964 Letter Phone Email
Gen X 1964 – 1977 Email Internet Phone
Gen Y 1978 – 1995 Mobile Internet Email
Millennials 1996 – ?
NB Seniors and Silents are very similar for fundraising purposes whilst. Millennials are too young for their preferences to be widely known.
Often un-noticed is a particular generational cohort called the ‘silent generation’ born between 1925 and 1945. Quiet and industrious they were not the heroes of WWII like the seniors or extraverts like the post-war baby boomers. Beats rather than hippies they were rarely leaders but became solid dependable charity supporters, giving out of duty. Now largely retired, their legacies are keeping many organisations artificially afloat; as the boomers are more likely to spend or give their money away before they pass on.
Over time it became apparent that the baby boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 were in the ascendant as they gained wealth and power. The differences between these generations are marked with boomers giving larger gifts, but craving more information, and greater feedback on results from their gifts, plus deeper involvement through visits and events often expecting personal knowledge of key players in their charities, but being fickle and expecting greater rewards and recognition than seniors for their time and gifts.
Boomers love well presented fundraising materials. Seniors see these as glossy and a waste of money. All this gives fundraisers an obvious dilemma, though increasingly sophisticated techniques are allowing them to segment their donor-bases; and to target these generations separately. Boomers give much more generously than Seniors but are fickle and will move from charity to charity if their concerns and desire for adequate feed-back and thanks are not met. They will not give out of duty like Seniors. They rarely follow another’s lead in giving or give as part of a committee. They give as individuals and want to know a lot about the charity they support, expecting to be personally convinced the charity is really effective and efficient. This has given rise to a whole new monitoring and evaluation industry.
Billy Boomer likes to visit, ask leading questions, get to know staff personally and take part if they can. Major-donor boomers want to be able to speak to the CEO and Chair on first name terms and often look for a seat on the board for themselves or a business colleague who will protect their ‘investment’ in the charity.
Beyond the boomers, however, lie generation X born between 1965 and 1977 closely followed by generation Y (often now called generation C or the Millennials). Generation X was named by Douglas Copeland (the Canadian fiction writer). In the UK generation X is looked on as Thatcher’s children coming of age in a selfish time and lacking the seniors’ experience of the depression or the boomers experience of post war austerity. Surrounded by the material gadgets the boomers had struggled to earn they expect a formally high standard of living as ‘basic’ and have aspirations of continuous improvement to their person circumstances, whilst accepting this may be at anothers expense. They, however, formed the bulk of the anti-globalisation and pro-Tibet demonstrations, taking to the streets en masse at critical times linked to high media coverage.
Quicker than the boomers to adapt to computers, email and mobile phones they have proved harder to recruit as donors; not bothering to read direct mail or leaflets their comprehension of poverty is limited by their easy access to credit. The credit crunch is likely to hit this generation hard, making them even more difficult to reach.
Generation Y, born between 1978 and 1994, has adapted to new media in unexpected ways. Unlike generation X they do not use new media as a tool to an end, for them it is where they live. For example, 30% of Korean teenagers are said to send an average of 100 texts a day. Networking sites are their ‘home’ complete with their home-page, and blogs are where they get their news. Celebrity is said to be their aspiration i.e. to be known rather than to achieve.
Also often known as ‘Generation C’ they are more community based than previous generations, in the sense they are inter-connected within their own generational cohort. They will often ‘produce and share content’ in new media, being both creative and altruistic in that respect. Connecting, collaborating and sharing are all Gen C characteristics leading to the tag that they have a ‘hive mind’. YouTube, MySpace, Flicker, Bebo are the outward manifestation of Gen C, but the mobile and MSM Messenger are perhaps the current soft-wiring of this cohort.
They are also becoming more involved in participative activity in charity through gap year activity and face-to-face fundraising on the street; giving an experience based knowledge of developing countries not available to earlier generations.
The differences can be illustrated by looking in very general terms at two everyday decisions; finding a route and donating to charity. To decide their route to a new destination a senior will study a map, a boomer may buy an A-Z, a Gen Xer will look up a multi-map site on the internet and Gen Y will probably phone a friend. To give to charity a senior will most likely hand-write a cheque on the recommendation of a trusted friend, a boomer may give through a direct mail appeal, a Gen Xer meet someone they fancy on the street and make out a direct debit and Gen Y may readily give on-line by credit card.
Generational characteristics are not, however, fixed at birth they are determined by the seminal experiences of that cohort as they come of age, and are forced to react to world events. The following chart shows their characteristics at each step in their lives.
June 2008 www.ifc.tc