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Generations

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Generational transitions

Old-People I’m ceding my space this week to my Narrator colleague Jessica Stollings. Jessica is an expert “generational translator,” who is superb at helping people and organizations work through generational transitions, from workplace dynamic issues to leadership transitions all the way to donor base transitions. It’s awesome to be able to offer our clients Jessica as a resource—through speaking, training, coaching, and all-out consulting.

Sometimes a key part of building for your organization’s future is figuring out how to integrate Millennial staffers in a way that best taps into their strengths—and I know a lot of my clients have an even bigger problem, which is figuring out how to take an aging donor base and build into the rising generations (without alienating their existing givers). Shoot me an email if you want to chat about this stuff!

Midway through the semester, a university professor came to me very upset about her students. She had e-mailed them a homework assignment, and only one of the eight students had completed it. She wasn’t sure what to do.

We looked into the situation and learned that most of the students didn’t know about the assignment. Why? The professor had sent it by e-mail, while the students used Facebook messaging for their classes.

Yes, all of the students had been issued e-mail accounts by the university, but many of them had never logged in. Because they considered e-mail slow and outdated, they had instead opted for newer forms of communication like Facebook and text messaging.

Once the professor learned how her students communicated – and the students learned how their professor sent out her assignments – everyone was able to get on the same page.

After that, the students knew to check their university-issued e-mail accounts for assignments, and the professor learned that creating an account on Facebook would prove useful for collaborative discussions and project management.

The Bottom Line: Different generations often use different communication channels.

The Solution: Find out which communication channels your supporters or employees use for information, and establish clearly which channels they’re expected to monitor. If the people you’re trying to reach use different channels, consider adapting your message to the format they’re used to.

This blog post is excerpted from Jessica’s forthcoming book, “ReGenerations: Why Connecting Generations Matters (And How to Do It).”

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How much does each generation give each year, and what are their giving habits?

What do the numbers tell that would help me engage everyone more effectively? The real issue: you’re sharp enough to have noticed that a 20 year-old, a 40 year-old, and a 60 year-old do not tend to respond the same way to the same kinds of communication and appeals. So you’re wondering how best to spend your time in order to get the best value for your organization. Who really gives a lot of money? Where do they tend to give it? And so on.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently released an EXCELLENT infographic about this—I encourage you to click and take a look. Chances are you know the oldest two generations (CoP calls them the “elder generation” and Baby Boomers) pretty well. But what about the 20 and 40 year-olds, who will be your donor base very, very soon? Here are some things that jumped out at me.

  • A whopping 60% of Millennials give (higher than Gen X and only 12% behind Boomers). That is a huge number for a generation that supposedly is half unemployed and has no money.
  • Yes, you say, but they probably give smaller amounts. True, but not nearly as small as you’d think. Millennials donate an average of $481 each every year, which is 60% of what Gen Xers (the 40 year-olds) donate. That adds up to $15.8 billion in giving each year by young adults, because there are 91.2 million Millennials (their generation is 50% bigger than Gen X). Takeaway: don’t discount the kids.
  • People in the youngest two adult generations (Gen X and Millennial) support an average of 3.9 and 3.3 charities per person, respectively. By comparison, Boomers support 4.5 and the Elder Generation supports 6.2. Takeaway: younger people support fewer causes financially. Based on my own more qualitative research, I urge you not to discount this—the number might increase some as they get older, but I doubt it will grow much. The younger generations tend to feel pretty strongly about being a part of the organizations they support; they don’t tend to want to write a check once a year and be forgotten for the rest of it.
  • Note the “favorite causes” and “favorite ways to give” sections at the bottom of the generations chart. Millennials are the first generation to not identify church as their top charity to support (children’s charities replace it, for now). They also seem a little more open to checkout counter donations.

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How do I navigate the shift from prospecting letters to social media prospecting?

Proven vs. unproven techniques and a tricky transition.

How do I navigate the shift from prospecting letters to social media prospecting?

The real issue: mass mail letters have a proven rate of return; social media doesn’t. Much like making a switch from snail mail newsletters to e-mail newsletters, transitioning from one to the other creates risks of losing people along the way who aren’t on top of the technology. How do you handle the transition?

The answer: gingerly.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, for now, snail mail prospecting still has a decent rate of return—you might not make our money back on the first round, but even that 5% of the recipients who end up donating will more than reward your effort over the next few years.

But you’re aware that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same kind of results from younger generations, even as they age. Gen X and Gen Y do not process information the same way—the want their information in smaller doses, more frequently. Their brains are being trained by TV, YouTube, Twitter, and other similar things. In addition, they’ve been marketed to their whole lives, are skeptical of scams, and prefer to support fewer organizations but know them more intimately. (That last bit is increasingly true of a suspicious older generation as well.) Seven-page letters from complete strangers asking for money go straight into the trash can, and I don’t think that will change in 20 years (in fact, I think it’s likely the trend will go the opposite way).

So since you have potential donors who you know won’t respond to snail mail letters for 20 or 40 years (if at all), you know it’s worth investing in prospecting techniques that will work now.

Some thoughts:

  • Social media prospecting is painless to ease into.  Smart social ads, strategically targeted, can help you find precisely the kind of donors you’re looking for and connect with them for as little as $0.13 per new like or follower. Even $5 a week, let alone $5 a day, can pay off.
  • Let your desired donor base and social success guide your snail mail prospecting. Is it a goal to have a younger donor base? Then don’t bother sending letters. Are you seeing at least as good results from social prospecting? Ditto.
  • Don’t ditch your donors. Be aware of who your existing donors are—their ages, situations, technological preferences. If you don’t stay on top of this information in the normal course of operations (as many nonprofits don’t), you may want to send out a survey asking people about how they prefer to hear from you—or even a quick checkbox survey directly in an e-mail. You won’t get everyone, but you’ll be able to start phasing out forms of communication you don’t think have a future.

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Are you saying I should stop using mass mailers for donor prospecting?

Pros and cons (yes, there are pros) of snail mail.

Are you saying I should stop using mass mailers for donor prospecting?

The real issue: do you want us to abandon everything that has worked for us in favor of an experimental technology? We’re pretty sure most of our donors don’t even use social media, and a lot of them don’t use e-mail.

The answer: not necessarily.

First of all, more of your older donors use social media than you’d think.

But I, for one, am not saying you should stop using something that’s been working for you—at least not yet. But you have to understand what’s coming down the road: Generation X is likely to throw away your prospecting letter unopened, and Generation Y (the Millennials) probably won’t even get it.

For now, snail mail prospecting still has a decent rate of return—you might not make our money back on the first round, but even that 5% of the recipients who end up donating will more than reward your effort over the next few years.

Another point I’ve heard made here is the opera example: young people don’t go to the opera (or the symphony), so a lot of companies have tried very hard to cater to them. It didn’t work. The Knight Foundation and others put a lot of money into studying what did and didn’t work to attract audiences. (I published a study of this in my report on art philanthropy for Philanthropy Roundtable.) One thing they found is that a lack of appreciation for high art wasn’t a generational thing—it was a young people thing. When those young people got older, they started going to the symphony and the opera just like their grandparents had.

So the question is: is snail mail prospecting a similar case, where Gen X or Gen Y will start opening the letters and giving you money as they get older?

I don’t think so. Two thoughts:

First, the younger generations do not process information the same way—the want their information in smaller doses, more frequently. Their brains are being trained by TV, YouTube, Twitter, and other similar things. In addition, they’ve been marketed to their whole lives, are skeptical of scams, and prefer to support fewer organizations but know them more intimately. (That last bit is increasingly true of a suspicious older generation as well.) Seven-page letters from complete strangers asking for money go straight into the trash can, and I don’t think that will change in 20 years (in fact, I think it’s likely the trend will go the opposite way).

Second, if you had potential donors who you knew for a fact wouldn’t respond to snail mail letters for 20 or 40 years, why wouldn’t you invest in some prospecting techniques that would get them to donate now?

So by all means, keep using the methods that have been working for you. But invest in tomorrow’s methods as well, whatever you decide those might be.

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