Ten Insights into Fundraising Among Boomers and Elders

YAegGCLhvo0aJugTGHimYcWBFvZBeakoqI8_Avwh8p8-1 A Post from James V. Toscano

As a person born before 1946, I am part of that group referred to as the “lost,” “quiet” and some of us, “greatest” generation. Marketers often call us “seniors” or “elders.” Given the great American Indian tradition of respect for elders, I prefer that term and will use it throughout.

The Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, subject of a mountain of studies and opinion pieces, are now coming into their own. They’re the richest generation ever, thought to have over $40 trillion to leave to the next generation. They, with my generation, make up most of the donors, major donors, lead trust donors, lead gift donors and planned gift donors to nonprofit organizations.

Soon, in the next few years, people over 50 will make up more than 50% of the US population. While considerable attention, advertising and fundraising are focused on the Millennial generation, the Xers and Yers, those of us over 50 shouldn’t be ignored. We still buy a lot and contribute to charity even more.

Gilmartin’s Engage: Boomers

Jim Gilmartin, president of the Chicago marketing firm, Coming of Age, an expert in our two generations who writes a Media Post blog on Engage: Boomers, recently authored a three part series on insights into marketing to boomers and seniors. He has done extensive analysis on many aspects of these groups, from traditional marketing studies to brain research, and is regarded as one of the top people in the field.

Visit here for a listing of his three articles plus many other valuable essays.

What follows is an adaptation of Gilmartin’s marketing insights and translation of them into approaches to nonprofit development and fundraising work among us Boomers and Elders. Credit Gilmartin for the original insights, but blame me if I take it someplace that doesn’t seem applicable to you.

Gilmartin cautions marketers to always be positive with our generations, and not mention age. That makes good sense for fundraisers as well. Other cautions: no hype and take your time. Most of us can see through claims that have no substance.  We like to weigh our options, although sometimes we respond immediately. Maybe we can figure out that difference below.

Right to Left Brain

The brain receives most impressions and messages through the right brain, the emotional, symbolic side. The left brain, with language and logic, takes these images, along with what the right brain does to them, and makes decisions. That’s usually why someone has to have a number of favorable, positive impressions of our nonprofit’s appeal before a donation is made.

Gilmartin reports that, as we age, our perceptions become more conditional, our interactions and relationships more autonomous, our social behavior harder to segment, much more individualized and our decision-making more emotional.

We are bundles of contradictions; another term for the Boomers is the “me” generation, given the widespread self-indulgence and selfishness, yet there are also many examples of Boomers exhibiting  great acts of generosity and heroism. Clearly, to understand us, you have to study us, assign us to major gift officers and do substantial research on those of us with interest in your nonprofit and resources to support it.

Ten Insights

Set all of these factors up against the challenges nonprofit’s face every day in trying to find the resources needed to maximize our Mission. Here are ten insights , based on these factors, that may be helpful:

1. Empiricism. As we age, our behavior becomes more individualized and our decisions become more practical as well. We want data, we want outcomes, and we want impact. What can you tell us in numbers and specifics that make sense to us?

2. Emotion. Yet, we are also increasingly responsive to emotional appeals. So we need examples and stories. We need to hear anecdotes. We prefer to focus on a single example, a single person and get to know his or her story.

3. Patience. Unless a hot button is hit, we take more time to make a decision, so patience can be rewarded if your appeal is reinforced in meaningful ways. Our decision, however, might even be for more that we were asked. So patience is the virtue in working with us.

4. Hot Response. Some of us are still hot responders. This results from clusters of brain cells predisposed to certain stimuli, and they increase with age and experience. Keep records on what these are among us and segment appropriately.

5. Values. Individual values and priorities emerge as drivers in our decisions. Again, talk to us, listen more, and segment accordingly.

6. Other-Directedness. We are less self-oriented. Altruism emerges among many of us and motivates us to the right thing—more for the recipient of our donations than for us.

7. Instinct. With all of our education and all of our experience, we have learned to trust our gut more, to allow our instincts to guide us to our truths, and our decisions. So emotion mentioned above, combined with gut means the need for well crafted messaging that appeals and rings true to us.

8. Age-Specificity. Given our life experience, we tend to judge situations and make decisions more in our own age-specific context. So, when writing to the 60ish segment, think, write and speak like a 60 year old.

9. Reinforcement.  Because the determination of relevance occurs first in our unconscious before our conscious thought processes engage, it is important to create, then continue to build on first, positive images and impressions with us without expecting immediate response.

10. Individualization. Given all the seeming potential contradictions above, those of us in the two cohorts are sensitive to context and nuance in our decision-making. Personalize your appeals to us, keeping in mind our individualism, our values and our specific interests.

As you learn more and more from such people as Gilmartin, and from such neuromarketers as Roger Dooley, you will be in a better position to understand your donors. You will never be able to convince donors, long-term, to do something not in their interest, nor would you ever want to do so. However, by understanding more of what drives prospects and donors, the better able you will be able to fulfill donor needs and values while helping to sustain your institutions.

  1. Good reminder to practice best ways to engage donors of ALL ages. And yes, Mr. Toscano you are a respectable elder for sure!

    • Thanks for the comment Beverly, and of course, all donors of all age groups should be engaged, this is just our insight on Boomers and Elders. Maybe we’ll do another on other donor ages.

  2. Good to hear from you Beverly. Hope all is well. As our editor comments above, we’ll be doing more on various segmented groups of donors. jim

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