How to Take Advantage of Generational Giving Gaps

When we talk about generation gaps, there’s always a lot of talk about millennials and how they’re messing up the world. This topic has been a favorite in mainstream media for awhile. The last jab about it I saw was about how millennials are putting the fabric softener lines out of business. (Big loss there.)

If you are in this age group or are in contact with one, you know millennials don’t use the phone to call people (in fact, who does that anymore in any age group?).

They text. If it’s important, they’ll send a picture, and perhaps leave a poorly written comment on social media.

I bring up millennials because they’re the easy target.

But in reality, there are six, count them… six different generations living today.

Each one of these living generations grew up with vastly different mass communication methods. And not just how they talked to their friends or parents, but how they experienced and acted upon the messages they were receiving.

My grandparents told stories about getting their first radio. My parents tell stories of getting their first TV. I tell about that time I was stranded on the side of the road in the rain at midnight all alone (true story), and realized it was time for me to join my generation, and get a cell phone. My daughter? Who knows what story she’ll tell. The first time she talked to a friend by hologram?

The point is, it’s easy to get wrapped up focusing your communications on the social media set (there’s those high profile millennials again).

But if you’re an organization who wants to reach all six living generations, you’re going to have to get creative.

When stereotypes do you right

Looking at your specific donor information is a good first step.

Who are your major supporters? How old are they? Did they write you a check or donate online with a credit card? What communication preferences do they bring with them from their youth? 

As a reminder, here are the six generations: The Greatest Generation (born before 1928), the Silent Generation (1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), and finally Generation Z (born after 1997).

But gathering broad information on your major supporters is only a start.

You then have to figure out where they donate, when they donate, and what’s the personal reason that sends them to their checkbooks.

Then…once you’ve categorized your donors, it’s time to abandon what you know about them and leave your judgement at the door.

When stereotypes do you wrong

It might be surprising to hear that donors don’t usually fit into the generational stereotypes we have of them. And while the figures below might sound intriguing, if you’re trying to reach people through mass communication, these statistics are more than just dinner-party fodder. They’re a road map.

For example…

  • Those selfish millennials? A whopping 83% of them donate regularly to charity.
  • Old-school Baby Boomers who don’t understand how to use a computer? Not so. Seventy-one percent of them are on a social network site every single day.
  • Of all the giving nationwide, including foundations and grants, GenXers still come out ahead of the curve, accounting for over 20%.

Find a happy medium

Now that I’ve twisted you all up, it’s time to find a happy place between abandoning stereotypes and taking advantage of them.

Because while there’s truth that Baby Boomers are online, they still probably appreciate a well-written personal letter (one that actually arrives in the mail) more than a GenXer might. And a millennial might respond to a text-to-give campaign in an emergency, but a member of the Greatest Generation probably won’t.

To take these stereotypes even further, the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers are still pretty loyal. In their day, simply the brand of a nonprofit would be enough for them to come back year after year.

But the younger generations are way less loyal and have far shorter attention spans. These generations require constant inspiration. They’ll be inspired to click that Donate button only when they personally connect with a cause.

Here, as with many other places, is the time to sprinkle good storytelling throughout your marketing messages.

Now, you’re (almost) ready

Next step, illicit some help. Borrow some of those scientists you have on staff and use their long-buried statistics courses to help you figure out where to target your next communications campaign.

If Baby Boomers make up the majority of your donors, and the majority of them give only after they connect with a story on social media, then your path is clear. Beef up the storytelling on social media and make sure your website is dressed to impress (and accepts all major credit cards).

Find a happy medium that speaks directly to the strongest segments of your donors, remembering, of course, that even those of us who fit neatly into our generational stereotypes respond to different appeals.

And this is where you bring back the tried and true, all important Test. When in doubt, test. Then, test again. And then finally, test that one too.

This may sound like a lot of work, and it is. But it will be worth it. If you find that your marketing dollars aren’t bringing in more donations (and assuming you have a great cause to get behind, of course), it’s not that marketing doesn’t work.

It’s that you’re using it wrong.

If you’re a communications manager for a nonprofit organization, it’s likely that you know your business changes every year. No longer are a newsletter, website, and e-newsletter enough.

Today’s donors require more engagement and inspiration, and, as each of them respond to vastly different communication styles, you have your work cut out for you.

Good luck. And don’t forget to leave me message. If you’re a millennial, go ahead and comment below. If you’re a Baby Boomer, I take all my comments with both Visa and MasterCard here.

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