My hot chocolate is saving the rainforest!

A few weeks ago, there was a mix up at my doctor's office and turned out my appointment was an hour after I had turned up. So I decided to pass the time at a nearby Starbucks.

As I stood in line waiting to order my hot chocolate, I was, as most people anywhere near my age do, checking my Facebook account from my phone.  Facebook has recently added the "places" functionality (in addition to the millions of other changes it has gone through in the last year), and I thought I'd try it out.

I was about to "check-in" when I noticed that there was an "offer" associated with this check-in.  If I checked-in at that specific Starbucks, $1 would be donated to help protect the rainforests. Now, I am sure that Starbucks did not know about my obsession with saving the planet, but boy oh boy was I excited! My doing something so mundane--buying a hot chocolate--something I was planning on doing ANYWAY, was also resulting in something good! Granted, $1 isn't going to save the forests, but, what if everyone who was there did the same thing?  Just imagine the acres and acres that could be protected! My mind was spinning with excitement.

Of course, I "shared" my check in with my Facebook community: maybe my friends who were visiting other Starbucks would see the deal and check-in too.

A few weeks later, I found myself at REI with a friend who was looking for a new winter coat. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "REI is a company known for its 'do-gooding', I wonder if they have a deal similar to Starbucks?" Well, lo and behold, (and maybe because it was Black Friday), REI did have a deal going: by checking-in, $10 was donated for clean up of waterways.

The moral of the story: prior to the historic hot chocolate day, I had reservations about using geolocation services that are increasingly ubiquitous on social platforms. Concerns over privacy, people knowing where I was, safety, all seemed not worth it.

But now, checking-in almost seems like a part of my civic duty. If I am going to be somewhere or doing something and by checking-in I have the opportunity to do something good, how can I not do it? 

I am going to start keeping an eye on businesses and brands that have do-gooding offers.  I am going to keep an eye out for announcements from my favorite charities to see whether they might be the beneficieries of any such offers. Because, who knows, one day, my addiction to hot chocolate COULD save the rainforest! (Hint: is YOUR organization taking advantage of the hot chocolate-drinking masses?) 

-Miriam Kagan

Strategy Director (follow Miriam on Twitter, @MiriamKagan)


Facebook Giving: How one donor got recruited

As social media increasingly becomes a part of the nonprofit marketers’ toolkit, many nonprofit fundraisers are wondering whether the big mama of all social networks—Facebook—is really worth the effort and investment from a fundraising perspective.

Sure, we all know we can get people to like our page, maybe post some comments, watch some videos, but, stories abound about the lack of success in terms of turning Facebook followers into donors.  Sure, there is Facebook Causes, and socially branded efforts by commercial marketers (check out the Chase Giving campaign for a great example), but can Facebook actually cultivate the kind of donor relationship that results in “real” donations?

Based on personal experience, I have to say yes.  As a fundraising professional, I get A LOT of solicitations—DM, online, TM, you name it.  And I read most of them, and every once in a while I get moved to give.

Below is the story of one organization that regularly receives donations from me, and my relationship with them exists entirely because of, and continues to be cultivated by, their Facebook presence.

I first became familiar with the Wildlife Friends of Thailand (WFFT) because a friend “recommended” it to me on Facebook. I am an animal lover, so I was eager to learn about what these folks were doing to help animals in Thailand.

Before you knew it, I was giving on their website 3-4 times a year. Why? Because the WFFT follows some very basic best practices that we all apply in our marketing programs every day, and is successfully using them on Facebook.

We all know the age-old truth that a compelling story of an individual will in most cases beat statistics and generalized calls to do “something” for “everyone.”  So, instead of telling me about the plight of animals in Thailand and making me feel helpless about the magnitude of the problem, WFFT’s posts are frequently focused on a specific need:

· We need money to help transport Jane the elephant to our facilities. Here is how we found Jane the elephant, her condition, and why we need to help her.

They also do a great job of providing updates and showing my money at work:

· Hey remember Jane the elephant that you helped us rescue? Well, here are photos of Jane, us treating her, and here is how she is doing.

They make me feel like my contribution is really accomplishing something on a regular basis (it does not disappear in some giant hole of “helping animals.”)

· Here are 7 monkeys who’ve lived with us and we’ve helped support for 6 years. See them play in their new enclosure.

They regularly thank the community for its support:

· It was hard for us to struggle through the political tensions in Thailand. Some of our largest volunteer groups cancelled. But, because of your support, we were able to continue on.

What WFFT is doing on Facebook is no different in its essence from the best practices of direct fundraising:

· Make the ask relevant and compelling

· Provide updates and feedback of donor’s money at work

· Engage donors as part of your cause and mission—turn them into constituents, not just wallets

· Create a  two-way discussion (make donors feel a part of your mission every day)


The moral of our story: sure Facebook is a great way to cultivate a community, spread your brand, but, tell people about your need in the right way, and it IS possible to get people, well at least some of us, to open our wallets.


So, ask yourself this:

· Who in your organization owns your Facebook presence and what do she/he/they believe its ultimate value prop is for the organization?

· How thorough is your Facebook post follow-up?

· How frequently do you measure the impact of calls to action (if there are any)?

· Has your organization truly developed a strategic approach to Facebook fundraising that is able to measure the long-term impact to organizational revenue from Facebook donor cultivation efforts?

 -Miriam Kagan

(Miriam is a strategy director with Merkle's nonprofit group. She is obsessed with everything Social Media and Do-Gooding.  Find her @MiriamKagan on Twitter.)

(WFFT is not a client or associated with Merkle)

Darwinism and Fundraising – an Observation.

 “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

Most industries, whether it be financial services, telecommunication carriers, sportswear brands, or whatever other commercial entity you can think of, go through a general business cycle as they evolve.  A period of initial expansion, where many new “players” enter into an industry to capitalize on an opportunity, is then followed by a period of contraction or consolidation, where the strongest “players” acquire, overrun, or otherwise defeat their rivals to take hold of the marketplace.  This is considered to be the healthy and natural way of things in the world of business and economics.

Now consider for a moment what has been happening in the fundraising industry.

· In 1998 there were 1,158,031 Non-Profit organizations in the United States, and by 2008 there were 1,536,134.  That is a growth rate of 33% over a short 10-year span of time. 

· The U.S. population underwent an annual rate of growth that hovered around 1%.  So the population in 2008 is approximately 10% greater than it was in 1998.

· Median Household Income over that same 10-year window of time grew at a slightly higher rate of 15%. 

· In 2007, public charities reported over $1.4 trillion in total revenues and nearly $1.3 trillion in total expenses.

(Statistics from U.S. Census Bureau and Charity Dynamics)

We begin to see the problem.   

The nonprofit industry is growing at a far more rapid rate than is the population or our median income, and fundraising itself suffers from an increasingly higher cost to raise a dollar.  Even despite the migration of the massive Baby Boomers population into that fundraising sweet spot of age 60+ and the fact that since 1998 charitable giving has steadily increased year-over-year, there just isn’t enough economic fuel to burn for this continuous sustained growth for all of the charities in the ever expanding nonprofit sector of the future.

The newly-created nonprofits that spring up across the years all believe they have a viable chance at sustainability, and who can blame them?  Their causes are no doubt worthy and urgent, and as we know many needs go unmet even despite such a large universe of nonprofit organizations.  But that just isn’t a fair or realistic expectation. 

The pot of charitable dollars that the U.S. population is willing to contribute annually is rapidly approaching its threshold, which means that either charities need to redefine what a successful year means – where growth from one year to the next might not be possible – or larger organizations may need to begin to consider acquiring or absorbing smaller organizations of similar mission to eliminate the competition for charitable dollars.  At the very least small organizations will soon need to band together to leverage the “strength in numbers” approach, in order to manage an ever-increasing cost to market to their donors.  If not just for the benefit of the industry, for the good of the donors across the United States who are being flooded with donation requests.

A good donor for your organization is likely a good donor for another organization, and as a single donor spreads his or her charitable dollars around, he or she quickly becomes a multi-buyer in the world of list rentals – which leads to a massive load of impressions.  The donor’s mailbox quickly fills with appeals and prospect pieces from local, regional, and national charities.  The donor’s online inboxes overflow with an endless stream of emails.  And not too far in the distance, the donor’s cell phone will be buzzing with text message after text message.  All of these contacts vying for the same pot of charitable dollars. 

My point is that it is unfair to the donors who are now bombarded with requests for support from every direction, when all they did “wrong” was make a generous gift to a cause they deemed worthwhile to them.    For the good of the donors the time to start considering consolidation, cooperation, partnerships, and co-branding between nonprofit organizations is upon us – and we need to decide if we embrace this new reality, or if we ignore it – risking further alienation of the donor population and ultimately leading us as fundraisers to a future not unlike that of the dinosaurs. 

Because as Charles Darwin would no doubt tell us, "In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed at adapting themselves best to their environment."

-Stephen Ferrando

Stephen is a Strategy Director at Merkle with a combined 12-years of expertise in both commercial  and nonprofit marketing, strategy, and analytics.  In his free time Stephen is working on becoming a ninja, as well as focusing on his life-long dream of completing the last side on his Rubix Cube.




Fundraising: better than selling a bunch of unwanted stuff

Here's a trend that bodes well for fundraisers, uncovered by Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: The Next Marketing Challenge: Selling to 'Simplifiers.'

Simplifiers are people, mainly in middle age, who've come to see that they have more "stuff" than they need. They've even grown burdened and embarrassed by all their stuff. Which leads them to seek something other than more stuff:

They want to collect experiences, not possessions. And they give experiences rather than goods as gifts to friends and relatives.

This is good news, because charitable giving is, more than anything else, an experience. A good one.

Giving is a positive, enjoyable experience for your donors even if you do nothing but receive their gifts. But there's a lot you can do a lot to increase the power of that experience:

  • Create more connection and specificity between the giver and the cause they're supporting.
  • Be prompt, sincere, detailed, and interesting in your receipting.
  • Report back to donors regularly on the impact of their giving. Really make your reporting back worth reading -- and sharing.
  • Have unique and exciting fundraising offers -- things nobody else is doing. (The really hard part, unless this is already built into your organization.)

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Bummed-out boomers might need different fundraising

Recent research from Pew finds Baby Boomers more pessimistic than the generations older and younger than they are: Baby Boomers: The Gloomiest Generation. How bad is it? Here are some examples:

  • 66% say it's harder for people to get ahead now, compared to 10 years ago.
  • 55% say it's likely their incomes will not keep up with the cost of living over the next year.
  • 86% say it's more difficult for middle class people to maintain their standard of living than five years ago.

In every case, the Boomers show more pessimistic numbers than those younger and older than them.

Should fundraisers be worried? The Agitator thinks so: Boomer Gloom Affecting Fundraising?

When the largest and most wealthy generation of donors is in a near-Prozac stage and scared to death of their financial future in a society they perceive is going to the dogs, it's not good news for fundraisers.

I'm not so sure the sky is falling. Polling research is notoriously fickle. Next week we could just as well hear about another one finding the Boomers to be jumping for joy. This is a snapshot, not a moving picture. A different moment might look very different, even if conditions are only slightly different.

But it's worth paying attention to. Pessimistic donors may or may not be less responsive -- but their motivators are probably different. They'll want their gifts to promote safety and stability. Framing your work as "revolutionary" is not likely to appeal.

Keep your eyes on this topic so you can respond well.

See also Aging boomers find faith.

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Direct mail: not dead, doesn't want to go on the cart

They like to say direct mail is dying. They carry its not-so-limp form to the bring-out-your-dead guy, who's not sure he should take it. Direct mail protests the whole way out.

Not so fast. Direct Mail Beats Predictions, Study Finds. The study, reported in the Prospecting blog, found that as people age into direct-mail responsive life stages, the show behavior similar to previous generations at those same ages:

... older generations are being replaced as direct-mail givers by baby-boomers.... The generation of the donor doesn't matter nearly as much as whether or not they have the time and the discretionary income to respond to direct-mail solicitations.

Your results may vary. But there's an important point here: direct mail is not dead. It's not even dying. It's changing. In some cases, it's not changing all that much, while in others the change is radical.

So keep your eyes open. Watch your results. Talk to your list brokers and other experts. Make your decisions on facts that relate directly to your program, not on blanket assertions that direct mail is dying -- or that direct mail is charging along unchanged.

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How to hang out with older folks without annoying them

Want to develop an intuitive understanding of donors? Talk to older people.

Next best thing, read what they write at The Elder StoryTelling Place, a blog where people age 50 and up tell their stories. Nothing earth-shaking, just the kind of stories our parents and grandparents tell.

It's a shortcut to insight. As the Ageless Marketing blog notes:

While creative directors pore over research results and reduce their gleanings to one-page briefs that will guide creatives, the stories told by people who want to share their perspectives on life provide more certain guidance.

You aren't going to walk away with buckets of data every time you visit, but you will read genuine experiences and attitudes. You'll get a feel for how older people think, how they express themselves, and what matters to them. And it's entertaining. Highly recommended.

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Aging boomers find faith

So Boomers are getting religion? That's what some are saying, including this article at Boomers Search for the Wisdom in Faith...

Boomers beyond age 50 typically have become more motivated by inner feelings and beliefs, and are not driven so much by what their friends, peers, co-workers, or even family feel or believe. Boomers at midlife are beginning to wonder about their purpose, and what legacy they will leave. And it is the culmination of these feelings that has many midlife boomers becoming more religious and spiritual.

We should probably note that this isn't just a Boomer Thing. It's a fact of life. Most people, of whatever generation, experience an enlargement of their perspective and increased interest in spiritual things as they reach middle age. (Boomers think they invented everything!)

This is good news for fundraisers, because faith-driven people make better donors. In fact, they're most of the donors to most causes.

And a lot of people, more than ever before, are at that stage of life these days.

Remember, Boomers tend to put a unique Boomer twist on everything they do, so their spiritual awakening is likely to be just a little different from previous ones. This is something we need to pay close attention to in the coming years.

Thanks to The Boomer Blog for the tip.

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Reminder: Boomers are still aging

Now the first Boomers are turning 62. That means they can retire on Social Security benefits if those benefits are enough to sustain them. See As baby boomers begin turning 'magic' age of 62, there's urge to retire in The Mercury News.

It's just one more step for this huge and idiosyncratic generation's march into the life of being elderly -- and that includes more giving to charity.

Are you ready?

(One place you can get ready for them: I'll be joining Kivi Leroux Miller for a webinar called What Do Baby Boomer Donors Want from Your Nonprofit? On Thursday, May 1, 3-4 p.m. (Eastern). Details here.)

Thanks to The Boomer Blog for the tip.

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Bifocals and the challenge of readable design

I just went through a difficult rite of passage: I got bifocals. Seems I'm coming down with presbyopia, which, I must say, is such a darn cool word, it lessens the sting of having the condition.

Presbyopia is inevitable once you reach a "certain age." And the older you are, the more severe it gets. Above age 60, virtually everyone has (or should have) bifocals. So take note: Your donors wear bifocals.

Aside from the odd sensation that I'm walking around on balloons (and that's fading), wearing bifocals isn't all that bad.

But reading is a challenge. You push the glasses up and down your nose, looking for just the right distance. You tilt your head up and down and side to side, seeking the spot where the clarity is just right. You angle the paper to try and catch as much light as possible. If the type is tiny, set against a color, reversed out, sans-serif, or a weird font, well, reading goes from a challenge to a struggle.

You quickly decide that life's too short (as the bifocals remind you) to spend a lot of time trying to read something that may or may not be of any value or interest.

So please: Be nice to your presbyopic donors (and me). It doesn't matter how great a piece looks: If it's hard to read, it's downright cruel. And only patience, determination, and pure charity will keep anybody with you when you're being mean to them. We don't have to read your stuff! (Well, actually, I do have to read it; it's my job.)

It's hard for someone to do a good deed when they're feeling annoyed. Design so that doesn't become part of the equation.

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Life is good for most donors

So midlife is tough, but it eventually gets better. That's according to a study reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail at Aging really is depressing (until 50). Here's the nub:

...most of us bottom out in our mid-40s, describing ourselves as unhappy or even depressed. But ... we bounce back and describe ourselves as happier in our 50s and 60s.

According to the article, US women reach their low point around age 40, while US men reach it at 50. (People in the UK and Canada, also studied, have slightly different time-tables.)

As you know, people enter their donor years usually some time after age 50. So think of it this way: Many donors are people on an emotional upswing. Their generosity is likely part of a joy-filled, expansive, new lease on life. Maybe because they've learned (and are internalizing) some important truths:

  • Life is sweet but transitory. We aren't going to be here forever.
  • The greatest joy and the deepest meaning come from serving and helping others.
  • Your money us meaningful only when you give it away.

That's the context you're entering, for the most part, as a fundraiser. Does your message ring true with that optimistic mind-set?

Thanks to The Boomer Blog for the tip.

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More donors are growing hard noses

An article in the Financial Times talks about a new breed of wealthy donors who insist that their giving make a difference: Doing good the hardnosed way.

... new philanthropists are practical, hands-on, and tend to have a hardnosed investment mentality. In many ways, the donors act as business consultants and the return on their investments is judged by measurable performance results rather than profits.

Some of these people have self-made wealth. They know how to make things work; they're just bringing their successful traits to their charitable giving. At the same time, nonprofit scandals have made many donor suspicious and untrusting of the nonprofit sector, and they aren't willing to leave their giving to chance.

The easy old days of trusting, duty-driven donors are fading away. Every day elderly old-style donors are passing away and being replaced by new donors who want proof that their giving makes a difference, and simply aren't going to give without it.

My advice: Get used to it.

In fact, you'd do well in the coming years to treat all your donors like exacting, hardnosed philanthropists. Not just wealthy philanthropists, but everyday donors.

Here's how you're going to succeed in the increasingly tough fundraising market:

  • All donors need beyond-the-ordinary organizational transparency.
  • All donors need up-front proof that their gift will accomplish its purpose -- not just a statement of the problem.
  • All donors need to hear back what their giving accomplished.
  • All donors need flawless service, error-free data, and quick receipting.

If your organization is not doing these things, make it a priority to start. If it's not possible, do it for as many donors as you can, starting from the top.

This is going to be part of the cost of doing business in fundraising soon. Get used to it.

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What boomers need as they age

What's happening with boomers as they age? Some good things, according to a post at The Boomer Blog, Boomer Wanted. Among the life needs of aging boomers:

  • the urge to legacy
  • the drive to find meaning
  • the desire to make a difference and be recognized
  • the wish to mentor and to have its value monetized

I'd say someone with life needs like those looks like someone primed to become a serious donor to the right causes.

I'd also say someone with life needs like those isn't going to be very responsive to traditional low-involvement fundraising.

It's a good news/bad news situation. We have a huge generation of people aging into their donor years, and they're going to be good donors. But all our expertise at fundraising is aimed at a different type of donors.

The smart nonprofits that learn to focus on donors will get all the slices of this huge new pie.

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How to treat boomer volunteers and donors

If volunteers are an important part of your work, you'll want to read this GuideStar article on baby boomer volunteers: Is Your Organization Ready for "The Boom"?

... baby boomers boast a large number of well-educated, highly skilled executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, many of whom will feel that their talents are not being put to use in low-level volunteer positions. Research indicates that these boomers should be placed at programming levels to utilize their abilities fully and to keep them engaged.

It would help to think of boomer donors this same way: They're less likely to be content with the old low-involvement, low-impact way of making a difference. They demand more power and influence.

You can ignore them and fail to meet their needs. Or you can reap the benefits of their commitment, energy, and affluence. Whether they're volunteers or donors, they have a lot to offer, and they'll demand a lot from you, including:

  • Information
  • Choice
  • Voice
  • Respect

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Older users less responsive to online marketing

You just have to love the term "silver surfers" for older people who are online. That's who they're talking about at Precision Marketing in Silver surfers shun email marketing. Key finding:

... almost 80% of the over 50 age group does not respond to email marketing, preferring to use email to communicate with friends.... However ... 36% of this age group are happy to communicate with brands online once initial contact has been made using other media.

Most donors (by a large margin) are over 50. These findings may apply to nonprofit communications. I'd work on the assumption that they do.

Meaning: Online donor acquisition will be a struggle with older donors. But you may find many among donors to offline media who are willing to communicate online.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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The coming age of traveling donors

If you've ever taken donors on site visits, you know the power of showing them the real thing, first-hand. So here's some good news, from a recent article in Fast Company: Air Travel Goes Tribal. It's about different groups that will be doing a lot of travel in the future, including one group called "active seniors." They're folks with the time, money, energy, and curiosity to travel. The other part of the equation: travel is likely to get better, believe it or not:

As difficult as it may be to believe in these days of endless delays, travel 10 to 15 years from now will improve. Airlines and the other travel providers will get better at personalizing your journey and satisfying your individual preferences. By ensuring flexibility and reliability the airlines will improve profitability and loyalty among customers who are willing to pay for just those services they want

Keep this in mind. If your work happens internationally, you may have something unique and very, very cool to offer these travel-savvy people.

As seniors, they'll be candidates to be great supporters.

They've seen all the tourist spots. Now they want to see some real life and meet some real people. And you can help them got way off the beaten track. Site visits have long been a staple for major donor relationship-building. The time may be coming when it's for a lot more donors.

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Are nonprofits ready for the Boomers?

The Boomer Blog, in a post titled If You're Not, Why? asks the business world a tough question: "Are you ... paying any attention to the 50+ cohort? Why aren't you?

The challenge many businesses face today is that Boomers are aging. They adjusted to the Boomers years ago, and now they act as if these lucrative but demanding customers became frozen in time, like insects in amber. Boy aren't they going to be embarrassed when they realize the Boomers aren't in their 20s any more!

Here in the nonprofit sector, we have a very different challenge ahead of us: We've been paying attention to the 50+ group all along. They're the ones who give. And that age group is slowly, inexorably repopulating with Boomers.

Are we going to adjust to them? Or are we going to keep on fundraising from their parents, sinking further and further into irrelevance?

We need to keep our eyes open. Right now, the ranks of donors are still dominated by older-than-Boomers. That won't last. What it will means as the Boomers take over is not yet clear. We have a lot of learning to do. And none of it will happen unless we're mindful of what's happening around us.

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Fundraising from older people, i.e., fundraising

Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies, writing at The Integrator, looks at the troubling attitudinal disparity between the Gen-Xers who work in fundraising and the Boomer donors they should be communicating with: Mind the Gap

Boomers and Xers have different worldviews, cultural touchstones, and senses of humor. Not surprising given Xers' tendency to define themselves primarily as "not Boomers." And, while Xers arguably dominate among non-profit fundraisers and marketers, Boomers are undeniably the primary target audience. It's just demographically the way it is right now.

As Mark concludes, communications "designed by Xers to engage other Xers ... miss the mark."

This is important. Though it's not a new problem; people doing nonprofit marketing and fundraising have usually been 20 to 50 years younger than their audiences for a very long time. It takes a real act of the imagination to get into the head of someone that much older. It's even harder when you're impressed with your own coolness and think the oldsters just don't get it.

So here's my advice anyone creating fundraising materials in any medium:

If you're "not old":
Remember every day who your donors are. Have a specific older person -- a typical donor -- when you communicate. Keep a photo of someone in their 60s or above at your desk. Remind yourself that if something you do feels extremely cutting edge and cool, there's a good chance it's missing your audience.

If you're "old":
Keep an eagle eye on your younger colleagues. Don't let them market to themselves. Keep the conversation going about what older people are like, what they appreciate and understand, what their life experiences have been. On the other hand, don't be complacent; anyone can lapse into coolness over effectiveness, and chances are your donors are older than you, too.

(See also this post -- which uses the same London Tube reference:Online or off, mind the generation gap.)

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It almost looks like we'll have too many donors

The dam has not broken! We do not face a collapse of the donor universe that will destroy all nonprofits.

PhilanthroMedia will back me up on that, as you can read at Generosity is Growing, Not Diminishing:

I've lived long enough to see a pattern. Each generation worries about succeeding generations and the loss of its own. Every time an elder donor passes away or a generous corporation leaves, their beneficiaries see an irreplaceable loss; a hole in the budget; a reason to ask how we can instill the values of giving in the younger generations and newer companies.

This non-alarmist view of the changing generations is correct. We are not, in fact, in trouble. Here are some facts:

  • Today's leading edge Boomers who are just entering their 60s have an average life expectancy of 83. They have a good 20 years of giving ahead of them.
  • And the Baby Boom birthrate kept increasing until it peaked in 1957. Folks born that year and since haven't even joined the charity party yet, but once they do they'll be donors for 20 or more years before they pass.
  • Remember, the Boomer generation has unprecedented wealth, and will benefit from the largest generational wealth transfer in history as their parents pass away.

We have something like 40 years of demographically fueled growth of ahead of us.

We aren't likely to see declining numbers of donors until some time in the 2040s or 2050s as the Boomers finally end their fascinating and illustrious career on Earth. At that point, the nonprofit sector, having grown fat on decades of unusual prosperity, may face a crisis.

But not just yet.

If you want to worry, here's what to worry about: Are you ready to raise fund from Boomers? They're going to be more demanding than previous generations.

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The 60s: coolest decade ever?

What's with all the lame marketing to Boomers that's built on how cool the 60s were?

According to the Ageless Marketing blog, this marketing misses the mark: What Marketers Need to Know About Aging Boomers (part of a good series on the topic of reaching Boomers). As we age, it becomes our goal to find "a sense of oneness with all and reconcile the sweet and the bitter in life. The main life focus is reconciliation -- finding harmony and peace with ourselves, others and life in general."

You can see why older people are better donors than younger people.

And why appealing to the themes of their youth is just plain irrelevant to Boomers or anyone else:

Aging boomers should be marketed to in terms of where they are in life now, not where they were "back then," Yet, marketing often reflects the fantasy theme ... sometimes in hollow reverie ....

I haven't seen much fundraising that makes gratuitous use of Grateful Dead songs. But I have seen a fair amount of stylish retro use of 60s imagery and colors (yuck). Forget it. It's not getting you anywhere with the Boomers. Speak to them as the mature, fully shaped people they are now, not the groovy youngsters they once were.

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Boomers are getting ready to help you

Get ready for an "involvement boom" in the coming years as Boomers (and like-minded) retire. That's what we can infer from recent research, reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Baby Boomers Seek a Purposeful Direction in Later Life, Study Finds (subscription required).

People aged 55 to 65 in the Denver metropolitan area were asked about their plans in the coming years. Here's what they said:

  • 70% said they would like to take classes for fun.
  • 51% would like to change to part-time or flexible work.
  • 39% would like to take a leadership role in a nonprofit group.
  • 35% would like to return to school.
  • 53% are currently doing volunteer work; 49% want to do so in the future.

What does this mean for fundraising? It's good news. Volunteers make good donors. They can also be demanding donors, leveraging their knowledge and involvement for more personal impact.

Many of the people in the study also said they think nonprofit groups need to improve the way they run their volunteer programs.

As usual, there's a perception gap between normal people and nonprofit organizations on:

  • 83% said they were motivated to engage boomer volunteers.
  • 78% that they matched individuals' interests and skills.
  • 61% that they have the infrastructure to support volunteers.

What all this means:

  • Be ready for a lot of people seeking volunteer opportunities.
  • Make sure you have your act together (not just that you believe you have it together).
  • Have plenty of ways for volunteers to interact meaningfully with you.
  • Create ways for volunteers to donate in ways they find compelling. They'll do it.

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Need to replace your older donors?

Everyone seems to worship youth in our culture. Even nonprofit organizations that should know better. As we see here at Barry's Arts Blog and Update, in Further consideration of the Generational Succession issues:

When kids have enormous disposable income ... we wonder why arts organizations long ago concluded that young people as we define them (high school, college and post college up to 30 years) simply don't have the financial resources to be donors to our programs and organization, when that simply doesn't appear to be true....

What's this fixation on young donors, anyway?

The reason younger people aren't present in large numbers among donors is not money. It's their age. They just aren't there yet -- they give seldom (if at all), and when they do, they don't make lasting partnerships with charities. There are exceptions, of course (practicing religious believers give at higher rates even when young), but in general, people don't really become donors until some time in their 50s or 60s.

Seriously, it's time to give up on the under-30 group and move on!

Now it's true that older people dominate the ranks of donors. And older people have the disturbing tendency of eventually dying. So they need to be replaced. The problem is when you look to the under-30 cohort for your replacement donors.

If you found gold in a creek, and then wanted to find another creek with gold, would you try the next creek over -- or one that's 30 miles away?

When you're prospecting for donors to replace your older donors, you should be looking not at young people but at almost-old people.

And in the US, that means Baby Boomers -- who are between 40 and 60 years old.

To reach this group, you can't be complacent: If you sit back and hope that your current messaging to the over-60 group will work as the next generation ages, you're in for some unpleasant surprises.

As Boomers take over the ranks of the old, we're likely to see some real differences in what's effective in fundraising. But you're going to need to offer them higher than ever levels of:

  • Relevance
  • Choice
  • Specificity
  • Proof of effectiveness

That's the generational change you need to be thinking about. The Boomers are already starting to show up in meaningful numbers on donor lists. In the next 10 years, they'll start to dominate.

And the under-30 group? Wait until they become the over-50 group. Until then, they're pretty much a waste of your time.

(Look through the demographics category in the archives for much, much more on this topic.)

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Nonprofit retirement crisis looms

While the aging of the Boomers will be a good thing for smart fundraisers who are ready for them, there's a serious down-side that will hurt a lot of organizations: These same aging Boomers will soon be retiring from leadership at nonprofits. In huge, shocking numbers. And most organizations just haven't prepared.

A recent story in The Philadelphia Inquirer reported some studies on this issue: Retiring boomers worrying nonprofits.

Here's the finding: "50% to 70% of [nonprofit] executive directors plan to leave by 2010." But here's the scary part: "90% of the organizations had not put any thought into succession planning."

The retirement of an effective leader can be hard on any organization. It can also be a time of renewal and positive change. But there won't be much good if there's no plan for succession.

This problem is basically invisible. Until it hits, and nonprofits are reeling from a loss of leadership.

Start planning now! You owe it to your mission and to your donors. We need a meaningful crop of people ready to step in to leadership roles in the next few years.

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Boomers can become your competitors

Two fellow bloggers have recently taken a look at the explosion of new nonprofits: The Agitator, in Top 10 Reasons To Start A New Nonprofit and The Nonprofiteer in Should you start your own nonprofit?

Good or bad? Does this proliferation of new organizations create more people doing good deeds, or does it dilute donor (and other) support?

Some of both, probably. Good or bad, it's not likely to go away any time soon. Because it's driven by Baby Boomers. These idealistic, individualistic, entrepreneurial people love to do things in new ways -- and now many are turning their sights on charity.

I know a guy (a Boomer, yes) who started his own nonprofit. He takes portrait-quality photos of mentally handicapped people -- folks who are poor and marginalized and are seldom treated as beautiful and dignified.

Nobody else does this, as far as I know. And to my inexpert eyes, it looks like valuable, needful work that makes people's lives meaningfully better.

This tiny nonprofit has a few donors. Is it slicing into the territory of an established organization, peeling away donations. Or is he making the pie bigger, getting donations that wouldn't have gone somewhere else?

My guess is if he were persuaded his work were doing more harm than good in any way, he'd stop it in a minute. But otherwise, he's going to pursue it wholeheartedly.

People who in previous generations might have been happy to be donors have the wherewithal and ambition to do it on their own. It's just a fact of life.

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The Boomers are coming! Are you ready?

In recent analysis of direct mail donor acquisition campaigns for one of our clients, we looked at the ages of the new donors. What we discovered was pretty exciting: 47% of the new donors are 60 and under.

That means nearly half that class new donors are Boomers.

What makes this notable is this: We weren't seeking Boomer donors. We were pursuing our usual list strategies. The Boomers were just there. They're showing up on the same lists as older donors. Because of who they are and what they do.

The Boomers are coming. One if by land, two if by sea!

The only thing we did that may have tilted the class of donors toward the Boomer demographic is we were working to increase average gift. That has the side-effect of lowering the average age, as you can see here:

Your results, of course, may vary. But this is an early sign that the leading edge of Boomers is starting to show up on donor files. It's going to be some time yet before they predominate, but it's time to get ready. Because with Boomers, you'll not only see higher average gifts, but new demands:

  • More connection with the cause.
  • Intolerance of poor service.
  • Ability to research for themselves about you.
  • Highly networked and influenced by what others (their friends and the celebrities they respect) are giving to.
  • Giving for self-directed reasons, not out of duty.
  • Very willing to give more -- when they get more back.

Hold on -- the ride is beginning!

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Boomers come in five flavors (at least)

Baby Boomers all war love beads and took to the streets in the 60s. They fought for civil rights, and against the war. Then they grew up into hard-driving yuppies with cell phones and SUVs.

Of course not. There's not just one kind of Baby Boomer.

A recent study points out the amazing diversity among this huge generation: Chadwick Martin Bailey Releases Baby Boomer Research. The study divides Boomers into five categories:

  • Status Seekers. Materialistic, money- and success-oriented. Willing to pay more for brand names. (26%)
  • Traditionalists. Conservative political, economic, and social views. Known for following the rules, and are smart consumers, (23%)
  • Blue Collar Skeptics. They fall on the low end of the Boomer income bracket. They don't trust big businesses and are concerned about the amount of information online. (18%)
  • Activists. Politically and socially active. Generally liberal and donate a significant amount of time and money to charity. (17%)
  • Achievers. Early adopters of technology. Focused on success and wealth and are heavily involved in social activities. (16%)

Take it with a healthy dose of skepticism. No survey is going to tell you the "truth" -- just a small picture of one moment as interpreted by its authors. If they'd asked different questions, they'd have found different categories.

But this is helpful in understanding Boomers as an audience: They aren't all the same. Donors probably cluster in the Traditionalist and Activist categories. Hold these categories in mind, and your fundraising will be more relevant. When you aim at everybody, you usually hit nobody.

If you're a fundraiser, you need to be a student of your donors. These demographic studies can help you refine your thinking and your fundraising efforts.

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Boomers want to be in control

Canadian Baby Boomers want donor power. At least that's what a study reported in The Vancouver Sun says. Boomer phenom even hits charities says that 74% of Canadian Boomers "want to know exactly where their charitable dollars are going before they hand over their cash." (In Quebec, 86% say this.)

"This is the biggest change I've seen in the past 10 years in philanthropy," said [Marvi Ricker, vice-president and managing director, philanthropic services at BMO Harris]. "And its very much a baby boom phenomenon." She added that in previous generations, people trusted institutions more and were happy to hand over their money to them. "Baby boomers have grown up questioning authority, defying it and wanting to do things themselves and being very hands-on."

Pay close attention to what Boomers say about their giving beliefs. Because they're moving into the ranks of donors. Age overlays on new donors for some of the organizations I work with show nearly half of new donors are under 60 -- that is, Boomers.

Personal significance is a defining characteristic of the Boomer generation.

The best thing you can do about it: Give them information, power, and choice. Specific fundraising offers. The ability to restrict their giving. Choices about how you'll communicate with them and about what.

Without roughly 8,000 Boomers turning 60 every day (that's in the US alone), they are a more significant audience every time we turn around! Don't miss them by sticking doggedly to old assumptions about donors.

Thanks to AFP Blog: Recent News of Note for the tip.

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When the Boomers retire: are we in trouble?

Now that we have a full year of Boomers turning 60 behind us, it's time to think ahead to the coming wave of boomer retirements that's a few years out.

A recent survey by Fidelity Investments gives us some insight into what may be coming: Boomers On Track To Give 20% More To Charity Than Average Donor.

The survey headlines with the finding that Boomers say they intended to give an average of $6,000 in 2006, nicely up over 2005 and higher than other demographic groups.

But even more interesting was the finding about Boomers and their coming retirement years:

While the greatest share of working donors (43 percent overall, and 47 percent of Baby Boomers) believe they will have to cut back their giving amounts after they retire, only 20 percent of retirees (age 60 and over) actually had to do so, and another 32 percent were able to donate more. Donor concerns over their ability to give in retirement come at a time when individuals are increasingly being burdened with financing their own retirement, which could include higher retiree health care costs and uncertainty around pension and Social Security benefits.

Cause for alarm? Maybe, but don't sell the farm. This study shows that 80% of retirees are able to give the same amount or more than they gave before retirement. Some studies say Boomers are less prepared (financially) for retirement than their elders. Others say they'll retire later and work after retirement.

So what we have is this:

  • The largest generation of donor-aged people in history.
  • Today, retirement doesn't have much negative impact on giving; what it will mean when Boomers retire is uncertain.

Is our glass two-thirds full, or one-third empty?

Thanks to About Nonprofit Charitable Orgs for the tip.

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Philanthropy is a hot new trend?

Here's an early sign of the Boomer invasion of the donor pool: Philanthropy is becoming cool.

Check out this article in The Huffington Post: Exploding Philanthropy: Moguls Spur a Rich and Unregulated Marketplace.

The point, all kinds of famous cool people are giving tons of money to worthy causes:

Coupled with moguls like Gates, Buffett, Sir Richard Branson, and the founders of online powerhouses like Google and eBay, stars like Bono, Oprah, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Brad Pitt add a consumer-friendly, front-page brand of philanthropy -- stylistically a cross between the sidewalks of Beverly Hills and the lobby of the Ford Foundation. Like all luxury consumer brands, this surge in upscale philanthropy has one clear message -- "be like us." Or to be more precise: "give . . . and be like us."

It's classic Boomer behavior: Take something that want to do, and define it as a hip new trend. Then do it like it's never been done before. Like protest in the 60s and career focus in the 80s.

This is great news for nonprofits. The Boomers are coming! Are you ready for them?

Thanks to the Charity 2.0 Blog Network for the tip.

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Aging Boomers: More money, more adventure, more demanding

Even the New York Times is starting to notice. Sixty-year-old Boomers just kind of freaks you out, doesn't it? Here's the NYT-take on how this demographic sea-change will impact advertising: Flower Power in Ad Land. Aside from the raw numbers of aging Boomers -- that alone is enough to catch Madison Avenue's attention -- there's a cultural shift that has them drooling:

"Those wishing to be successful in the market can't ignore the boomer numbers, the wealth and spending power they have," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman and national managing principal for the consumer business practice at Deloitte & Touche in Indianapolis.

"The boomers have redefined every age they've moved through, so there's no reason to believe they will not redefine the stereotypes of what it means to be retired," he added. "Depression babies saved, not spending unless it was necessary. But because this generation grew up in prosperity, they don't have that bunker mentality. They're not worried about putting money in the mattress."

How this may translate to fundraising:

  • Charitable giving per person may increase. As these folks discover the joy and wisdom of giving away money, they'll do so less cautiously than previous generations. You may have already seen this in the higher average gifts of younger donors.
  • Charitable giving is likely to become more adventurous. Older donors have tended to give to organizations they know personally and the major nonprofit brands (and their look-alikes). Boomers, seeking a more "authentic" experience, may be much more open to new charities that make an exciting promise.
  • Donors will be more demanding, less forgiving. If their gift doesn't "work" -- that is, if they don't see credible evidence that you used their gift to change the world -- they'll go elsewhere.

That's both good news and bad news. Good if you're ready to go with the coming changes. Bad if you're not.

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Bush giving goes against the Boomer grain

President Bush may be a Baby Boomer -- he's turning 60 this year, putting him in the leading edge of his generation -- but he doesn't donate like one.

President and Mrs. Bush's charitable giving, as reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (Bush, Cheney Release Information About Charitable Donations) shows that they gave $75,560 to churches and charities, about 12 percent of their taxable income. The organizations they gave to included:

We see here mostly large, old-line charities, the kind that have catered to the pre-Boomer generation. The most notable exception is a local soup kitchen. It's also interesting how much giving is motivated by emergencies, mainly the hurricanes. This giving profile looks like that of a much older donor.

I won't draw any conclusions other than this: President Bush's giving habits remind us that the Boomers are not a single-minded monolith. While many will give very differently, forcing wholesale change in the nonprofit world, some will stick to the giving habits of their parents. A ray of good news for the old-line charities that aren't ready to change.

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Is Old the new Black?

Even ad agencies are starting to take notice of the demographic shift that's in the process of hitting us. Adrants, an edgy (and amusing) blog for the advertising industry proclaimed: Boomers Boom, Gen X/Y Flat, Over 50 the New Black:

Remember those people we called Yuppies? Or baby Boomers? Well, that audience . . . is about to boot advertising's fave demographic, 18-49, to also-ran status.

While marketers have an incessant desire to be "cool," the desire to grow their business trumps all. Smart companies and marketers will follow potential for growth and that growth is in the 50+ crowd. Obviously, kids will continue to be born and the 18-49 demo will not die. It's just not going to see any expansion in size anytime soon.

If the cluelessly hip, blindly youth-worshipping ad industry notes that people over 50 are actually relevant, we might start to see a new kind of advertising: Relevant? Useful? Clear rather than clever? More about winning hearts and minds than winning awards? Don't hold your breath. But it could happen.

Fortunately, the fundraising industry has been talking to older people all along. Our challenge will be to adapt to the changing culture of older people. But be thankful that you don't have to totally rethink your audience.

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U.S. Census has great news for fundraisers

Here in the Donor Power Fortress of Charity, we're still cleaning up the mess after our huge celebration of Donor Power Day: January 1, 2006 -- when the first Boomers turned 60, ushering in the Age of the Empowered Donor.

But we just had to stop recycling champagne bottles to read this Washington Post about older Americans: Census Foresees an Older, and Wiser, America:

The U.S. population age 65 and older will double in 25 years, and the new elders will be healthier, wealthier and more highly educated than previous generations, redefining what it means to be older in America, a Census Bureau report issued yesterday shows.

That is a bundle of good news for fundraisers, so I'll unpack it:

  • More older Americans. The majority of donors is always older people. They're the ones with the time, disposable income, and wisdom to be donors. Fundraisers are going to see a growing universe of potential donors in the coming years.
  • Healthier. They'll live longer. And give longer.
  • Wealthier. They'll be able to give more. Both donations and -- eventually -- bequests.
  • More educated. Better educated people are better donors -- they give larger amounts and stay around longer.

Fundraisers have some great years ahead of us. If there's any bad news in all this, it's only for those who are unable to adjust to the needs of this new generation of donors -- the old line organizations that won't or can't empower their donors. But they don't read the Donor Power Blog, so we can't warn them!

You can download the entire Census report (PDF) here.

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Boomers aren't so bad after all

A Washington Post article takes a look at the Baby Boom generation with a little less hand-wringing than usual. The first, Boomers: The Real Greatest Generation, punctures the "boomers-as-plague-of-locusts" meme that's so popular these days:

The generation preceding the Boomers gets all the good press: They survived the Depression. They defeated Hitler. They rebuilt the entire world.

The Boomers? Whiny, self-centered, and destructive. But consider this:

. . . boomers have an important story to tell. It's a story about a more inclusive and tolerant America, about women's equality and men's growing respect for it, about an appreciation for cultural diversity too long denied, about a society that no longer turns a blind eye to prejudice or pollution.

The Boomers have made society a better place. Whiny? Sure. Self-centered? Yeah. But their impact for good has been astounding. Changing the world has been one of their defining features.

And that's good news for fundraising. Now the Boomers are entering their donor years -- with more time and more disposable income than they've ever had. And the same desire to change the world. If you can show them you are a great way to help them change the world, they will give to you. They'll do more than give -- they'll volunteer, advocate, and get involved in many ways.

Are you ready for Boomer donors? If you are, you have some good decades ahead of you.

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Listen to Donor Power

Corey Pudhorodsky of the 501c3Cast, an independent podcast aimed at the nonprofit world, interviewed me this week's podcast. We talked mostly about the massive changes the Boomers are bringing to fundraising and how nonprofits can deal with them.

Here are a couple of ways to listen to the half-hour podcast:

  • Click here to download the sound file, so you can listen to it on your computer or transfer it to your iPod.
  • Or click here to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

The 501c3Cast is the only podcast I know of serving our profession. It's a great, enriching resource. Highly recommended.

Donors are getting more diverse

The Boomers bring some interesting psychographics with them as they enter their donor years. But that's not all. They are also more racially and ethnically diverse than any preceding generation of Americans. The proportion of Latinos and Asians in the U.S. population is skyrocketing, and the proportion of African Americans is also rising. This trend accelerates with the generations following the Boomers.

Modern Donor, an email subscription newsletter, gives some of the numbers in Hispanics, Asians on the Rise in U.S.

For fundraising, this means a couple of things:

  1. Be aware of your audience; it's not like it's always been. Shared cultural assumptions may not stand as before.
  2. There are amazing opportunities for ethnic-based niche marketing.

A new day in fundraising starts TODAY

Today is not any old New Year's Day. It's Donor Power Day. Shortly after midnight this morning, the first Baby Boomer turned 60. In the following 24 hours, nearly 8,000 fellow Boomers turn 60.

The largest generation in US history is entering its Donor Years. And that could mean we're about to enter the Golden Age of Fundraising.


Just one complication: These folks aren't like their parents and grandparents. They believe in things like self-actualization, personal significance, and changing the world. In the 60s and 70s, the Boomers brought us the peace, civil rights, environmental, and other movements that changed society. In the 80s and 90s, they revolutionized business as hard-driving employees and entrepreneurs. All along they've been demanding customers, seeking meaningful better products and services.

So get ready for them to become donors!

The donors of previous generations gave out of duty. That isn't enough for Boomer Donors. They need to know and feel that their giving makes a difference. They'll require more information and involvement from the nonprofits they support. They also offer larger gifts, better retention, and more upgrade potential.

Organizations that fail to adapt to Boomer Donors face dwindling revenues, shrinking donor files, and challenges from nimble new competitors. But organizations that embrace them will thrive and grow in the coming decades.

It starts today: Donor Power Day.

(Enjoy this editorial cartoon on one of the challenges these first sexagenarian Boomers will face.)

Donor Power Day: five days to go

Five days from today, the old era of fundraising will (symbolically) come to an end. January 1, we'll celebrate Donor Power Day, when the first of the Boomers turn 60, thereby entering their prime years as donors. And just as they've changed everything they've touched as they've crowded through life's stages, they will transform fundraising.

Every day during 2006, 7,918 people turn 60. Among those turning 60 this first year: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Cher, Donald Trump, and Dolly Parton.

In 1947, the portion of adults 25 and older who had a high school diploma or higher was 33%. Today it's 85%. There are 78.2 million Boomers living today, 50.8% of them women. In 2030, there will be 57.8 million of them surviving, 54.9% of them women.

These and other facts about the Boomer generation available here from the US Census Bureau.

Get ready for change. If you handle it right, it will be great!

Donor Power Day: 10 Days and counting

The count-down continues! In just 10 days, the first Boomers will turn 60 and begin turning the fundraising world upside down. Or is that right-side up?

Here's another glance at this demographic behemoth from a recent Business Week article titled Love Those Boomers. Some highlights:

  • Number of Boomers: 77 million
  • % of U.S. population: 27.5%
  • Total number of Boomer households: 45.8 million
  • Estimated annual spending power: $2.1 trillion
  • Annual average pre-tax income: $57,700
  • Annual average spending per household: $45,700

20 thinking days left 'til Donor Power Day

January 1. The first Boomers turn 60. Big day, especially for fundraisers. Everyone's getting in on the celebrations. Yesterday's Parade Magazine featured an article that trumpets the joy of being between 60 and 80:

... the average 60-year-old today can expect to live to the age of 83, and millions will continue well into their 90s. This longevity revolution has spawned a new, largely unrecognized stage of life, nestled between middle-age and old-age, spanning the period from 60 to 80.... Suddenly, words like "senior citizen" and "old" seem outdated.

They even have a contest to name the stage of life that the oldest boomers are about to enter. Whatever name they come up with, you can bet it will be triumphant, empowered, self-indulgent, narcissistic, and a bit annoying. But it will reflect the change we'll see in donors in the coming years. They're going to turn fundraising on its ear. Are you ready?

Donor Power Day: 25 Days and counting

Bake a cake! Pop open something bubbly! Donor Power Day is just 25 days away -- January 1, 2006.

Remember, that's the day when the first Boomers turn 60 and symbolically join the ranks of donors. Their numbers and their different ways of thinking will tranform fundraising. It can be for better or for worse, depending on how you respond to them.

Today's Donor Power Day Preparation Recommended Reading: a very interesting article on the Boomers' longevity and attitudes in Modern Donor, an email subscription newsletter.

A blurry, but interesting, look at donor attitudes

Here's a study out from Public Agenda, a think tank called The Charitable Impulse (PDF). It takes a look at the attitudes of donors and of nonprofit leaders. This study is worth reading, but . . .

Warning! This is focus-group research. Do not take it too seriously or literally! Focus groups tell very little about the ways people actually behave. The only source of information you should dread more is the executive director's spouse.

Nevertheless, there's some interesting stuff in the report. You have real people saying things about the nonprofit sector, and that gives you some sense of how we're perceived. Like this statement from a donor:

"The money goes more where you want it to go. You're given more of a choice. . . . When you give, whether it is your time or your money, to a charity, you are able to make sure that it goes to what you want it to go to."

Would that more charities would empower donors the way this donor thinks they do. (Or, to be properly rigorous, the way he says he thinks they do.)

There's a lot of stuff in this report, some of it interesting and insightful. Just promise me you won't take it as actionable truth!

Donor Power Day: 30 days and counting

Here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity, we're getting ready to celebrate a very important holiday -- one that is vitally important in the life of every nonprofit that relies on donors. It's Donor Power Day. It comes on January 1, 2006.

Donor Power Day is not an annual holiday, but a once-in-a-lifetime event. It's the day the first Baby Boomers turn 60 and symbolically enter the ranks of donors.

If you're in the nonprofit world, this matters to you tremendously for several reasons:

  • The sheer size of the Boomer generation: 77 million of them, the largest generation in American history.
  • Their longer life expectancy, higher level of education, and relatively higher affluence than previous generations.
  • Their high social consciousness. These are the people who heard President Kennedy challenge them: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
  • Their demanding, transformative impact on everything they've touched on their journey through life. The way the changed popular culture, then politics, then the commercial world -- they are going to change fundraising.

The nonprofit world can either accommodate the Boomers, or be passed by. Which will you do?

Get ready. The Boomers are coming. And they officially start in 30 days.

The transforming power of the Boomers

Don't miss this special report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy on how the coming wave of older Baby Boomers is going to transform the nonprofit world: Make Room for Boomers:

Instead of viewing older Americans exclusively as a drain on society who are going to bankrupt health-care and Social Security programs . . . they should be considered a tremendous asset that can be tapped to help solve social problems.

A hearty Donor Power Amen to that!

The report is about volunteerism -- how Boomers will impact nonprofits with their "ask what you can do for your country" social consciousness and their sheer numbers. But the same issues will apply to Boomers' giving to charity. In fact, the impact will be larger, because for every volunteer, there's a whole auditorium full of loyal financial supporters.

This is a huge opportunity for nonprofits, but also a challenge. As the article notes:

... boomers are a fussy bunch, and charities need to learn how to accommodate them. They want positions where they can make a difference, research shows, and most nonprofit groups have not figured out how to offer them those kinds of opportunities, experts say.

Their parents and grandparents gave out of their sense of duty. Their need for information and connection with the causes they supported was low. Boomers give strategically, each one marshalling her charity so it moves forward her personal world-changing mission.

The nonprofits that learn how to support the Boomers' personal missions will win -- they'll win her donations, her volunteer time, and her advocacy. The old-line organizations that think their donors remain duty-bound and disconnected will fall by the wayside.

Will direct mail follow the dinosaurs into extinction?

Not according to the Post Office. An article in Direct Magazine outlines a study presented recently by USPS business specialist George McHale: "Generations X and Y Value Direct Mail.”

In short, folks are still paying a lot more attention to snail-mail than to email, even the highly wired generations born since 1964:

Overall, 95% of all American households collect, assess and sort their mail daily, while only 57% of households check e-mail weekly.

Fair enough. Email doesn't even come close to replacing postal mail in our daily lives. Yet. But consider the source. The Postal Service will be the last organization to trumpet the rising power and relevance of email.

For years, we've watched direct mail get squeezed between rising production and postage costs and increasing competition. If postal mail were to lose its relevance in people's lives, that would be the death-knell of direct mail as a fundraising medium.

That's not happening. But it could in coming years. Improving technology (crash-proof computers, ubiquitous wi-fi, things like that) and users who trust and enjoy the medium could meaningfully shift people away from the mailbox.

This won't happen all at once, and it won't be a complete shift. Just as TV didn't replace radio and the telephone didn't supplant the personal letter, email will most likely add to people's options, not replace them.

Don't be too quick to give up on direct mail. But don't put off learning to use online communications -- it'll be very important, probably sooner than you think!

Boomers are already out-giving their parents

If you've been running around saying "the Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming!" -- it's time to change your tune.

The Boomers are here.

A recent study by the DonorTrends Project looks at adult Americans by age, and shows some of the important differences between Boomers (those born 1946-64) and those older and younger. PDF of the exucutive summary available here (registration required).

The top-line findings you should think most about:

  • Per person, on average, Boomers already give more than the preceeding generation (they gave $1,361 in the previous 12 months, while those in the older generation gave $1,138).

  • Boomers plan to give even more -- 33% say they'll give more in five years than they do now.

  • 40% say they plan to leave money to charities in their wills.

That shows a bright future for fundraisers. The Boomers, just turning 60 now, are already surpassing their elders in giving. And there are going to be many more of them in the coming years.

Go out there and get them!

Seth is a New Donor!

In his blog today, author and marketing guy Seth Godin excitedly tells us how the proceeds from the sales of his latest book are being used to build a school in an impoverished community in Nepal. Pictures and all.

He's just like the New Donor, the activist Boomer-generation, conscious, change-the-world donor we talk about here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity: Empowered, informed, generous, and an advocate. What a catch he is for the nonprofits he's chosen to support. Not only do they get his gifts, but they benefit from his credibility ("Seth Godin thinks this is a worthwhile organization -- it must be pretty good!")

This is a picture of the future of fundraising. Donors choosing causes willing to inform them. Writing about it in their blogs (most of them not celebrities, but all of them with a certain circle of influence).

Get ready. The old fundraising style -- general, unrestricted, "trust me; I know what to do with your money" -- is not going to reach donors like Seth!

Get acquainted with religious donors

Here's an article worth reading in Fundraising Success Magazine: Not How, but Why to Give: A Religious Ethic Perspective.

It's about the ways nonprofits should treat religious donors. This is very important, because faith-motivated people are the majority of donors to all nonprofits, religious and non-religious.

So regardless of your organization's position on religion (or your own), you need to understand and empathize with people of faith.

Looking at religious donors, the article makes a number of Donor-Power-type observations. Like this:

Studies show that those who give of their time and talent are more likely to give of their treasure as well. This only makes sense: A donor's personal knowledge of the organization, and the people it serves, deepens the commitment and desire to help.

Amen to that.

Many religious donors have been demanding -- and sometimes getting -- Donor-Powered fundraising for years. This group of people is connected, involved, committed to giving. Much the way most donors will be in the coming decades as the Boomers move into their donor years.

Talking 'bout my generation (and the other ones too)

Fundraising Success Advisor (an email subscription connected with Fundraising Success Magazine) has a short piece called "The New Face of Donors".

Donors born before WWII are leaving us. In not too many years, there will be none left, and our whole approach to fundraising, built around their attitudes, will have to change. This article takes a quick look at succeeding generations, starting with Boomers:

Boomers were told they could do anything. For them, life is a voyage of self-discovery. They display a bent toward inner absorption, perfectionism and individual self-esteem. Taught from birth that they were special, boomers believe in changing the world, not changing to fit it.

So far, so good. This is the kind of thinking all fundraisers need to do. Knowing our new donors is the first step toward building relationships with them.

This article makes the very common mistake of focusing equally on not only the Boomers -- who are about to become the mass of donors -- but also the following generations: people born since 1965.

While it's interesting to study people under 40, it's not much use in fundraising. They simply aren't donors in meaningful numbers.

The Boomers are going to change everything. Let's focus on the challenge at hand. We have many years to figure out Generations X and Y.

Aging Boomers still want to change the world

A recent survey of 1,000 people ages 50 to 70 on their attitude toward work gives us glimpse of the coming wave of Boomers and how they'll impact the nonprofit world.

According to the survey, they want to do work that helps others, most often mentioning jobs in education and social services.

79% of Boomers in the survey were interested or very interested in these "good work" jobs. 57% say it's very important that the job give them a sense of purpose.

This is good news. It shows the high level of "involvement" in the Boomer generation -- that urge to "make a difference," to have a positive impact.

That points to donor behavior. It probably also predicts a higher level of involvement with the charities they support than we've seen from previous generations.

Are you ready for them? They'll reward you if you are.

What is this blog all about?

If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

About the Blogger

DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

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