If you've given any thought to how your organization will survive beyond your current donors, you've probably seen articles like this one, about outreach to Generation X and Millennials (Gen Y). It says the predictable things:

  • What worked with previous generations won't work with these folks,
  • Younger donors tend to want to see how their donation is used,
  • They don't like mail or telemarketing, and do like giving online and crowdfunding, and
  • They like staying on top of organizations via social media.

All true, but not new information--and only so useful. You've probably heard most of that before, and it probably hasn't done your bottom line much good.

Here's why.

Information like this makes it easy to start thinking about outreach to these generations in purely technological terms. You respond to it by "getting on social media," or maybe flirting with a crowdfunding campaign, or getting a fresh brand. All good things as far as they go, but they tend to make you think your job is done.

That's why you have no donors under 60--cultivating an entirely new generation of donors is more complex than that. You need to understand the generation--with psych profiles, a little reading, getting to know its members personally (and listening to them!), and recruiting its members as champions.

This isn't optional, because "younger donors" often doesn't mean 20 year-olds--it means 40 and 50 year-olds. The people who are making decisions right now about where to send charitable donations. (Gen X and Gen Y combined have 24 million more active donors than the Baby Boomer generation, and a Gen Xer's average annual gift is a solid $732, not much lower than the average Boomer gift.)

Building them up effectively as a donor base is partly about providing value to their lives now, and partly a long-term, complex, messy process that requires a great deal of time and skill investment. Sometimes there's relatively little return in the short run. In my experience, the ball can start rolling rather slowly, which makes it tough to get organizations to stick with it.

But it has to happen. Developing a strategy for building a long-term relationship with donors in these generations (and thereby securing your donor base for the future) is crucial, and figuring out a way to execute that strategy sustainably is part of the process.

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