Posts Tagged ‘Boomers’

Boomers crave purpose: Discover how your cause can deliver it

An infatuation with younger donors can distract you from the real work at hand: cultivating boomers as they start their bell lap.

Heed these words from a recent “For Impact” blog posting: “The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago. The next best time is NOW.” This bracing slap, from one of fundraising’s most fervent and useful blogs, refers to the marketing of charitable bequests and other planned gifts. Had your organization made a serious effort 20 years ago to get into the wills of the Greatest Generation, today you would be harvesting large and luscious philanthropic fruits. Not happening for you? Let’s take a look at two common communications lapses.

This is not a serious effort: Adding a postscript on your direct mail reply device, advising, “If you’d like more information about legacy giving, check this box.”

This is not a serious effort: Relentlessly mailing to your donors one of those dreadful canned “planned giving” newsletters that only an accountant could love.

But now? Well, now you have a second chance to get it right…as vast numbers of boomers approach their sell-by dates. Let’s replay the staggering math and lick our bequest marketing chops. There were 76 million births in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964 (source: Population Reference Bureau). I was one of them. And America wasn’t the only nation that went procreatively crazy post-World War II. The UK, for one, is sitting on a rich lode of aging boomers. The first boomers hit the magic age of 65 in 2011. What lies ahead for them? A renewed search for meaning perhaps. Trained as consummate consumers, boomers may now be shopping for something different: a late-in-life sense of purpose…and a way to go out with a bang, not a whimper. In fact, research shows boomers crave purpose. What a lucky coincidence. Philanthropy, as it happens, is all about purpose.

But enough about them. Let’s talk about you: where are you putting your emphasis these days, on courting (1) the aging or (2) the young? If you’re hunting new donors, almost any donor will do. Young, old, they all come in roughly alike. Or so you might think. But do they stick? There’s a bit of a rub: older new donors tend to keep giving longer than younger new donors. A 25-year-old winkled out by street fundraising will likely be gone in a year. A 40-year-old new donor obtained the same way will continue giving. You see, age matters. It’s not that younger donors are less generous. It’s just that they have so much more to buy: clothes, cars, furnishings, homes, education for their eventual kids. Older donors have been there, done that. A person aged 65 is far more likely to have two things a young adult won’t have: (1) enough stuff and (2) a sense that time is running out.

Want to set up a really first rate bequest marketing program? Are you ready to get serious and plant trees that 20 years from now will drop into your organization’s lap big, luscious philanthropic fruit? I’d call Richard Radcliffe at Smee & Ford in London. He’ll set you right. And one of the first things he’ll have you do is write up a “vision statement.” It’s like a mission statement, except it’s about where you want to go: i.e., your organization’s destination.

Here’s an example, paraphrased from Mr. Radcliffe:

“In 1960, the survival rate for childhood cancer was appalling. It was a death sentence, really. But donor-sponsored research has made tremendous progress since then. Today, four out of five children survive a cancer diagnosis. Still, the job is far from done. By 2020, almost half of our children will face some kind of cancer event, thanks to environmental factors. We absolutely can defeat cancer, with your devoted help. But now we need to push harder than ever. Please include cancer research amongst your bequests. Tomorrow’s children will need your help.”

Let me break that down for you:

(1) You show what you’ve accomplished to date.

(2) You cheer the donors who made it possible.

(3) You show that new challenges are on the horizon.

(4) You issue a clear call to action.

(5) You make a promise (“…absolutely can defeat…”).

(6) You shift the responsibility onto the donors’ shoulders, where it should be, because that responsibility makes donors feel needed.

See also:

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide

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Multigenerational management: Mind the gap

I think that’s why I found our recent CausePlanet book feature especially compelling: Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things. Managers today have to diversify their leadership approach more than ever to motivate Boomers, engage Gen Y and not forget Gen X in the middle.


Author Brad Szollose says, “Today’s generation gap is permanent and unlike any gap we’ve seen before; it is a chasm. We cannot return to the past any more easily than Dorothy Gale could go back to her black-and-white world unchanged. But we can bridge the gap and make it work under a new paradigm, starting with an understanding of how each of us approaches work. The integration of Boomers and “Netizens” is paramount to our success.”


To stay relevant as a leader in today’s workplace will require a willingness to constantly embrace what’s new outside of your organization and especially, inside among your team members. You might ask how this leadership perspective would be different than any other decade. The answer lies in Szollose’s first of seven laws that “puts people first.” To do so today means understanding how to nurture a productive continuum between enormously different working styles among the Gen Y and the Boomers.


Ultimately, Szollose impresses upon us that the most nimble leaders are the most successful because they realize the business model we’ve depended upon for the last hundred years is dead. Now, there are no rules for your business model. Instead you must stay open to new ideas, new technologies and even hybrids from the past, present and future to keep your organization relevant. You must create an environment where you can look to the smart people you’ve surrounded yourself with and learn from them, as well as pay attention to your marketplace and how opportunities arise.


The following is a Page to Practice excerpt of Szollose’s first of seven laws for managing a multi-generational team.


1st Law – A Liquid Leader Places People First

Szollose believes that flexible leaders begin by putting their people first and in doing so, recognize they are a composite of enormously different experiences and should be led accordingly. The author says that Boomers need to rely on Gen Y because most of the technological practices in use today did not exist five years ago. Instead of resisting the “citizens of the internet (or “Netizens”),” it’s critical to recognize this generation as talent-rich contributors because of their ability to consume astounding amounts of information from being raised on the Internet, resulting in an aptitude for technology. Conversely, Gen Y needs to trust Boomers who rely on strategy and are able to see the bigger picture. They have an eye for spotting talent and identifying potential pitfalls thanks to more experience.


Szollose also recommends putting your people first by setting clear standards of performance for them within a setting of a flat hierarchy, which contributes to a nimble organization and gets everyone involved and aligned to the entire organization’s success. Additionally, this structure allows for direct communication with the front lines so you can eliminate perceived and real barriers that prevent your staff from succeeding. Szollose says that “when the distance between upper management and the rest of the company was the greatest, management took longer to discover internal and external problems.”


Putting people first is also accomplished by redefining your role as a leader. In the author’s words, “For leadership to work these days requires leaders to be more approachable, more flexible, and stronger decision makers who show respect for every member’s contribution to the organization.” Szollose says that organizations that have strict boundaries and hierarchies create a scenario where the leaders are the last to know when things go wrong. Equally important is that this scenario diminishes innovation and ideas are never brought forward, encouraging staff members to hoard information and create silos and redundancy. In other words, this way of business is a waste of money. Instead, close the gap between management and implementers, redistribute decision making and establish an open-door policy.


And finally, putting people first means recognizing that your talent-rich team is progressively becoming more transient. They have laptops and they’re willing to travel. Boomers and Gen Y alike are no longer bound by their location to be creative or productive on behalf of an organization. “Transient” also applies to the status of your staff—you can hire contractors who meet your specific needs for important tasks. Implementers can come and go depending on the timing or seasonality of your projects and programs.


If you were going to add to one of Brad’s immutable laws for being a flexible leader of a multigenerational team, what would it be? Email us at


For more information about Brad Szollose and his book, you can visit his blog at If anyone is interested in a free special report, “Cracking the Gen Y Code: How They Think, How They Work and How They Buy,” email Brad at Include your name, email address and that you heard about his book from CausePlanet.

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