The Three Generations Nonprofits Want to Reach!

I don’t go to many nonprofit events. I get invited to too many: I can’t attend all of them. So, this spring I chose to go to The Welcome Project’s Yum: A Taste of Immigrant City and skip half a dozen other events held by groups about.

Lauren doesn’t go to many nonprofit events either. But she doesn’t pick and choose. She just doesn’t go.

Here’s the difference between us: I’m a Baby Boomer. Like many other people born between 1946 and 1964, supporting organizations that do good work is part of who I am. I have served on Boards and chaired committees, and my wife and I get satisfaction each year when we look at the list of good groups that have received a check from us.

Lauren is a member of Generation X. She and many of her peers, born between 1965 and 1980, are skeptical about fundraising events…and she has two kids who are heading toward college, so she’s very careful where she gives her money. Ask her to help build a house or lobby a legislator she knows personally–she’ll see the results there. Ask her to spend the evening listening to speeches and she’ll ask, “Can’t I just send a check?”

And meet Katie, a Millennial.  She doesn’t go to galas…and “what’s a check?” But Katie will volunteer (especially along with her friends), and she will raise money for you online (by asking her friends). That’s what people born after 1980 are more likely to do.

How do you get all three generations to feel engaged and excited about your cause, and support your organization? Approach us as we’d like to be approached.

  • Leah Donelan, vice president of programs for the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, says nonprofits are doing well with Gen Xers and Millennials by creating “groups targeted toward young people, starting Twitter accounts and holding less-expensive-than-a-gala evening social events.”
  • A veterans group in Southern California is experimenting with what they call generational marketing to reach not only Vietnam and Gulf War vets, but veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan too. “Something as simple as colors and fonts can be the difference in whether or not our messages resonate with our intended audience.”
  • A group in Somerville, Massachusetts where I live is inviting its supporters to tell stories about how the city has changed in the last twenty-five years. That gives Boomers like me the chance to share our experience and the wisdom we feel we have acquired, and it gives us the sense that the organization is paying attention to us: something we value highly.

But don’t stereotype.

No generation is all alike. A shy Boomer may not want to tell you his story. A Gen Xer who has a grandparent active in the community be a “joiner” like him. A millennial who wishes she had been born in the 1960’s may happily organize a march and shudder at the thought of doing crowdfunding, even for an organization she cares about.

You need to consider generational preferences when you approach your donors. But you need to go beyond that and really know them as individuals. You can succeed at engaging people from all three generations (and older, and younger!) if you know what really moves them.

“All you need is love,”  I say.  “And a good database,” Lauren adds. “And see you on social media!” says Katie.

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