2014 will see a shift in focus for nonprofits as they respond to changing demographics in the giving population. Two trends will dominate: first, Boomers are retiring, and as they do so, planned giving opportunities will become much more prevalent. Boomers will also be more involved than ever in causes about which they are passionate, translating into increased volunteering. Nonprofits should be ready with meaningful opportunities that allow their Boomer supporters to apply their business skills and work experience. Secondly, Millennials are developing their unique profile as donors, and indications are strong that they will be civic-minded, creative, and very active in determining how their contributions are used. Nonprofits who want to engage Millennials will need to speak to them on many channels, including mobile, be willing to listen and respond to their ideas and feedback, and involve them as partners and insiders in finding solutions for social problems.

Nonprofits wishing to develop their constituencies to ensure sustained and increased future funding must become educated about generational differences in their donors, and develop nuanced relationships and approaches for each. Understanding two key demographic segments will be pivotal for many nonprofits seeking funding from individuals. 

The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are beginning to retire. For nonprofits with planned giving programs, this represents a great time to develop deeper relationships with supporters in this age cohort, as retirement planning and inheritance planning often go hand-in-glove. The Boomers represent approximately 34% of the adult population and are overwhelmingly philanthropic according to the Pew Research Center.  Sixty-seven percent of  Boomers are donors, with average annual donations of $901, according to 2010 research by Convio, Edge Research and Sea Change Strategies. And Boomers are also volunteering in droves. Over 30% of Boomers are volunteers, and 50% say they will volunteer at some point. For those organizations looking to get the most from their existing relationships with Boomers, it’s time to supplement your major gift cultivation strategies with planned giving messaging. Mine your data for those donors aged 50 to 67 who have been long-time supporters, have given smaller gifts on a consistent basis, especially those who may have no children, and those who are volunteers. While planned gifts take time to mature, investment in this generation will be worthwhile.

The Millennials (born between 1980 and the early 2000s) will soon eclipse Boomers in terms of sheer numbers. Those who are currently adults represent about 33% of the U.S. population and they are already giving to the causes they care about. Many in this generation are just beginning their careers and they will without doubt grow in number of donors (it’s currently estimated that 56% of Millennials are donors) and average annual donations (estimated at $341).  While generalizations may be dangerous with a group this large and diverse, The Pew Research Center study found Millennials to be

  • confident (one study cited 96% of Millennials responding positively to the statement “I believe I can do something great”);
  • connected (they have grown up with technology and are sometimes called the “Net Generation”);
  • open to change; (Millennials are more likely to be liberal on social issues such as marriage equality, non-traditional living arrangements, and immigration).

While cultivating relationships with Millennials may not result in the highest return on investment, if you are an organization that can retain and renew donors over time, investing in relationships with Millennials will prove fruitful into the future. Millennials are engaging with organizations in a number of ways, including traditional direct mail and email, but are also the generation most comfortable with technology.  If your strategic plan is at all dependent on Millennials now or in the future, don’t wait to ensure your web content is mobile-friendly and that you are communicating using social media, text and mobile apps as well as with traditional channels.

Organizations who wish to maximize future giving will pay special attention to developing appropriate strategies to cultivate major and planned giving from Boomers, and strategies to engage Millennials who are eager to make an impact, if not now, in the future.

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