There are now four generations we need to authentically engage in the philanthropic world that affect everything from communication to leadership to recruitment and retention of donors. We need to look at fundraising from the next generation of donors’perspective because philanthropy’s pipeline is essential for our organizations’sustainability. The essential questions have become: 1) Whom do we tap for funds? and 2) How do we develop Next Gen leaders on our boards and staffs and in our volunteers?
As I travel around the country and talk about Fundraising and the Next Generation, I am consistently confronted with the following five myths about fundraising with the next generation of philanthropists. Tagging and dispelling these myths can help us develop relationships with the next generations that can only enhance our organizations.
Myth #1: Next Gen donors are hard to find.
Next Gen donors are in our organizational backyards. This is not a “Where’s Waldo?” situation where they are mystical and unobtainable. They are our volunteers, staffers and children of our donors. They are young people engaged in professional groups like Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, Resource Generation and more.
Many young philanthropists begin engagement with nonprofits through volunteerism. In fact, according to various research, Millennials especially see philanthropy as a contribution of both time and money. The next generation wants hands-on experiences with organizations before giving dollars. Pay extra attention tothe volunteers.
Myth #2: The next generation is too young to make major donations or think about planned giving.
Our organizations’major donors and prospects were not always major donors, at least most of them.They needed time to build their wealth and philanthropy. It’s the same with Generation X and Millennials. We need to cultivate today’s annual donors to be tomorrow’s major donors.
I also know of Next Gen donors that do have the capacity for large gifts and do have wills with allocations for philanthropic contributions. The truth is we never really know where those millionaires are–they may be quiet or understated or they may stand to inherit wealth. It’s our job to develop relationships with individuals with wealth or access to wealth now to create sustainability for our organizations in the future. As I often say, donors are like snowflakes: each one is completely unique. Philanthropists express their contributions in different ways at different times.
Myth #3: Next gen donors’ philanthropy is the same as their parents’ and grandparents’.
Family philanthropy is complicated, whether we are talking about a family foundation, donor-advised fund or kitchen table philanthropy. Combining money, family dynamics and the generational lens makes giving especially delicate. One thing I know is that every generation–every individual–in philanthropic families wants to have its own impact. This impact may include a respect for the legacy of those who led the family’s philanthropy but will also need to encompass additional philanthropic values.
In resource development, we can reach out to the younger generations in family philanthropies to find out what inspires them and how to communicate effectively. Ask questions about how they would like to be engaged and what a successful,impactful philanthropic investment looks like.
We are not carbon copies of our parents and grandparents; neither is our philanthropy.
Myth #4: Next Gen donors don’t have the time, talent or treasure to serve as board members.
Experiences with groups like Young Nonprofit Professionals Network demonstrate there are young people who are anxious to serve in leadership roles. Our job is to make sureany board member, regardless of age, has the tools to serve successfully in those roles. Provide training on fundraising and help individuals set fundraising goals to serve the mission.
A positive leadership experience for emerging leaders transforms them into ambassadors for your mission. We need to avoid tokenizing young people on our boards so we can check a box. Instead, make sure you’ve created a welcoming and engaging culture on your board that makes it possible to both recruit and retain Next Gen board members and donors. Young board members will provide fresh perspectives and diversity on your board, just like any other demographic.
Next Gen philanthropists are interested in giving time, treasure, talent, and ties, as the Next Gen Donors Report highlights. The next generation is well connected and will use those networks to tie the organization to meaningful partnerships whenever possible.
Myth #5: Young donors only use electronic communications.
Today the key to fundraising with any demographic group or individual donor is multichannel communications. Yes, Generation X and Y are technologically savvy and Millennials are considered digital natives, but online interactions will never replace in-person relationships. Don’t assume the only way to communicate with younger donors is by Facebook or Twitter.
We can use online technologies like social media as one of the tools in our toolbox, creating anentry point to develop deeper relationships. Social media is an outstanding way to steward relationships with existing donors by sharing our organization’s stories and successes and adding value by connecting followers to additional resources.
The truth is that fundraisers have had to evolve their communications strategies as new technologies emerge. We have had to learn how to effectively use direct mail, public service announcements and websites. We now need to add social media to that toolbox and know there will be more tools to come. In fact, it was recently reported thatthe fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women ages 55–65. What does this tell us about our assumptions related to social media and age?
While technology is agreat asset we can use to develop our donor relationships and create newprospects, it will never replace the personal connections that a phone call ora face-to-face meeting offers. Next generation philanthropists are no different than other generations; there are just additional ways to communicate with them.
We know from the research by Convio on the Next Generation of American Giving that lifelong loyalty to any nonprofit organization begins in the thirties, regardless of the generation, so perhaps giving is about life stage rather than age. We need to always check any assumptions we hold in order to explore what individual donors of all ages and giving abilities can contribute to our organization.
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