The donors of tomorrow?

I am a member of Generation X, which approximately includes those of us born between 1965 and 1976. There are approximately 51 million of us living in the United States. In front of us our generation is the uber-generation called “Baby Boomers” (approx 1946 – 1964 and 79 million strong) and behind us are “The Millennials” (approx 1977 – 1998 and 76 million of them). There is some argument over date ranges and even the numbers, but let’s try to stay focused on the big picture.

We can all agree that the donors of today are primarily Baby Boomers and Gen X individuals, which means the donors of tomorrow (and already starting to regularly donate) will be The Millennials.

When it comes to my generation, I usually use me and my experiences  as a lens:

  • I haven’t physically owned a checkbook since 1998
  • I just quit my job to open my own consulting practice so I don’t need to wait for Boomers in front of me to retire and so I can live life by my own rules
  • I give to charities much differently than my mom and dad
  • I hate it when the non-profits I support try to institute rules around my philanthropy
  • I love technology
  • I hate to create boundaries between work and home and charity

I am very different from my parents and their friends. I can see it very clearly. There has been and always will be generational differences. It is natural and there is nothing wrong with talking about it.

I have a sister who was born in 1979 (and depending on who you listen to she is either a Millennial or right on the threshold). As with my parents and their generation, I can likewise see that I am very different from my sister and her friends. She values different things than me, she interacts with the world differently than me, and she seems to operate by a different set of rules.

As a former executive director of a non-profit organization, I know how much time that I spent trying to cultivate, solicit and steward “the donors of today” (aka Boomers and Gen Xers). It was exhausting work. I also know how much time I spent trying to do the same with “the donors of tomorrow” (aka Millennials). If you could hear me talking, you’d hear crickets because I was entirely focused on Boomers and Xers as I know most of you are, too.

With approximately 7,000 Boomers retiring every single day in America, non-profit leaders need to start paying attention to this sea change because retirement changes a donor’s profile, giving patterns and capacity to give. More importantly, more and more Millennials are engaging in philanthropy each and every day. The face of the average non-profit organization’s donor database is likely to start changing very quickly.

With this change will likely come an adjustment to our cultivation, solicitation and stewardship strategies. For example, we know that Millennials exhibit a high level of volunteerism. This suggests that non-profits wanting to engage “the donors of tomorrow” might want to invest in volunteer infrastructure (e.g. volunteer management / human resources, systems, structures, opportunities, etc).

We know who the donors of tomorrow are, but do we know what makes them tick? How to engage them? How to best solicit them? How to steward them and demonstrate ROI? I suspect not, but there is good news:

  • The Case Foundation is sponsoring the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit in just a few weeks. It is 100% virtual. You can register and participate online.
  • There have been studies done that tell us a lot about this generation. You can download and read it. You can share it with your resource development committee. You could engage a focus group of Millennials and ask them to explore what they think it means for your organization.
  • There are Millennial non-profit bloggers,  like Jessica Journey, who you can follow in order to better understand a Millennial generation’s point of view on philanthropy.

There is much work to be done if our organizations are going to be sustainable.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.