With the baby boomer population rapidly dwindling, how can charities engage subsequent generations of prospective donors? The key is relevance, says Jo Lilford
You’re a charity. You know your typical donor profile. Mostly, your best donors are members of the so-called baby boomer generation, chiefly in their sixties and seventies, who benefited from post-war property booms and solid pension plans, student grants and free, reliable healthcare and dentistry. They have nice teeth, nice homes and most importantly, nice bank balances. For decades they’ve kept charities afloat with generous donations, through both their lifetimes and now, their legacies. But as this ageing sector of the population dwindles, many charities have a major headache looming.
So what happens next?
Subsequent generations of prospective donors face a very different financial landscape. Struggling to get on the housing ladder. Financing university education for their kids while caring for ageing parents. Their disposable income is pretty much accounted for. They don’t have the bank balances to support major gifts. And they don’t respond to the same triggers, or even feel the same commitments, as those their parents did. The donor landscape is changing.
Charities need to take a tough look at their methods of engagement: they need to have a different conversation with prospective donors. It’s no longer a question of how much a donor can give in a single major gift, or how much we can expect from a legacy. This group is less likely to have the disposable income to support that.
As a sector, we have to find different ways to drive a change in donor behaviours.
We’ve worked with child welfare and animal focused charities, those with a so-called popular cause – and we’ve worked with those with a more complex sell. They all have one thing in common across the donor piece: relevance. Charity credibility has dwindled for many people. Donor apathy is here to stay if charities aren’t prepared to do things differently.
One of the problems is that most of us are asked to give at every turn – TV ads, direct mail, friends and family asking for sponsorship support for causes dear to them – and donor weariness is a real thing for many people. People are tired of being asked to contribute when they face their own financial and other challenges. So it’s more vital than ever that charities are relevant within people’s lives.
Charities that are prepared to work harder to make themselves relevant, to stand for something that the donor believes in, are more likely to captivate donors for the long term. Put simply, if donors feel that charities ‘get’ them – then they feel that they ‘get’ the charity, too. It’s a two-way street. We talk a lot in this industry about emotional engagement, and that’s something that hasn’t gone away. But it needs addressing in a different way. Reports suggest that the biggest barrier to giving is uncertainty that donation leads to action.
We also know that technology makes it easier than ever to make connections more personal. Emotional engagement this time around is about creating an enduring and truthful resonance that matters to a donor for life, not just a quick emotional punch that makes them well up at a TV ad. The way to do that is by improving and demonstrating better understanding of their motivations and the things that matter from that very first engagement onwards.
It’s a big shift. So where should charities begin?
We think good citizenship has huge appeal. In the new opt-in culture that’s heading our way fast, donors are going to choose charities that exhibit values they feel aligned with – and this is what charities need to make sure they get right. Charities all do good work. Talking at that level is not enough.
Recent world events have contributed to a resurgence in people looking for simplicity, reality and truthfulness. Things that will make a difference close to home, where they can see tangible benefits.
A year ago, no one had any idea that the world was going to be in such a crazy place now. And the fallout from unsettling world events is that we’re looking closer to home for comfort, for things that matter again. We are all looking for control over the things we can influence, to participate in things that will make a change where we live and work, things all around us.
This is a great starting point for charities to bring the agenda back home.
We all like to feel good and it’s the little things that make the difference. Getting people into the habit of small, regular contributions of time, skills and yes, gifts, rather than focusing on the big game items; getting individuals more involved, so both parties enjoy a lifelong, symbiotic partnership rather than someone who just signs a direct debit form once – these are the sustainable donor relationships of the future.
Treating the next generation of donors exactly the same way as the last will not give charities the kind of impact they need to be sustainable.
5 tips for the shift
1. Charity literally begins at home
Understand how you can create value within the donor experience, not just how they can create value for you.
2. Listen. And listen some more
There’s a reason your existing donors are with you, get them to try things out for you – and get their views. They know what makes you appealing.
3. The best relationships are not one night stands (or single donations).
Shift your focus to developing long-term, symbiotic donor partnerships.
4. Harness the zeitgeist
We are all seeking good citizenship and empathy in a tumultuous world. This is great news for charities.
5. Data is your friend
Don’t be afraid to think more creatively about metrics – they can work hard for you in terms of long-term engagement, rather than just pound signs for board meetings.
Jo Lilford is strategy director at Clout Branding a strategic creative agency that specialises in helping organisations overcome their brand challenges, from building enduring donor relationships to creating unforgettable campaigns and messaging.