A different answer to the old-vs-young prospecting question.

Why should I waste time trying to get broke 28 year-olds to donate?

The real issue: Baby Boomers have all the money. They probably provide the vast majority of your current funding. If you had time, you might give some thought to how to get Generation X to start donating, since they’ll be your funding base in a decade or two. But you don’t have time, and you REALLY don’t have time to talk to their kids, who won’t be in the picture till long after you retire.

The answer: that attitude is probably costing you thousands if not millions of dollars every year.

Did you know a recent study found that 90% of children donate to charity?

Yup. My own especially tenacious sister-in-law raised hundreds of dollars to donate to Compassion when she was four years old. (She walked around to people at church with a basket and trust me, you felt like a monster if you didn’t give her your spare change.) The amount was abnormal—usually it’s just a few dollars—but nine out of ten of her friends also donated to charity.

By the time those kids are 50, they will have gone through a lot of life…and most of them will have stopped donating before they were old enough to drive. By the time they’re 25, they will have learned the hard way that they can’t make a difference when they’re young, and it will take millions of dollars expended by thousands of nonprofits—30, 40 years later—to convince a few of them to “be like little children” again.

What if you were the nonprofit that let that kid be a part of your work when she was four? That made her feel valued and important? That let her see the effects of what she was doing? That showed her she can make a difference right now, not as an individual, but as part of a movement? How much money do you think she would donate over the next 50 years while all the other nonprofits ignored her, assumed she wouldn’t give? How much cheaper do you think it would be to keep her giving—even if it was only a few dollars a year at first—and help her build the habit than it will be to get her to start when she has built up other habits instead?

This is a core element of social fundraising—understanding that habits are a lot easier to build than to break, especially when you start young and create small victories early. It’s like exercise. Which is easier (and more effective) when you’re 50: staying healthy when you’ve been working out for 50 years, or trying to start an exercise program now that you weigh 250 pounds and are in constant danger of a heart attack?

But, you say, that’s nice, but I need my organization to survive now. And there’s only so much of my staff to go around. We have to focus on the people whose dollars make a difference now, or we won’t be here in 40 years.

This is where another element of social fundraising is crucial to remember: that kid, that twenty-something, that mom with three kids, does not exist in a vacuum. She’s not alone. Sure, her $20 dollars each month might not be worth a ton of your effort if that were all there were, and your donor base were 200 people. But she has friends. And there are resources at your disposal that can not only make giving to you a rewarding part of her life, they can also spread to her friends.

$20 a month might not be worth a lot to you. But would $120 million be worth a lot to you? That’s $20 a month each from 10,000 people for 50 years--$2.4 million a year.