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Mind the Generation Gap: A Message from Your Boomer and Gen X Donors

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Analysis from The Next Generation of Canadian Giving Survey

As fundraisers, few of us would deny the benefit of decades of direct mail marketing efforts aimed to engage the oldest generation of supporters – the ‘Civics’ or ‘Matures’, born before 1945.

More recently, we have witnessed some of the benefits of social media marketing oriented toward another group – the ‘Gen Y’s’ or ‘Millennials’, born after 1980.

But we know that the Civic donor population is rapidly shrinking – and revenues from social media channels aimed predominantly at the Gen Y donor pool will not be enough to replace the revenues that are lost from the Civic donor pool as those older donors pass away.

Does your organization have a strategy to bridge the gap between Civic and Millennial donors?

If we are to succeed in finding new supporters for our causes and sustainable revenue in the coming years, we will need to pay closer attention to Boomer and Gen X donors in our current engagement and cultivation strategies.

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter…

There are 9.3 million Canadian donors who are Civic (born before 1945) and Gen Y (born after 1980), groups that total 9.3 million people giving $3.4 billion. Compare that to the 15.5 million Canadian donors who are Boomers (b. 1945 – 1964) and Gen X (b. 1965 – 1980).

Boomer and Gen X donors gave roughly $6.4 billion in donations in 2009, meaning their contributions represent 2/3 of total donor dollars.

In simple terms, the Gen X and Boomer donor pool is nearly 60% larger with nearly twice the total giving power of Civic and Gen Y donors.

Donors born before 1970 have been the backbone of a majority of development programs and will continue to be. That’s a key reason why we caution organizations against shifting too much focus to its youngest donors. Instead, we encourage them to do more to cultivate middle-aged donors through both new and traditional channels.

In order to reach out to these very powerful in-between generations of Canadian donors, we need to better understand their motivations and behaviours relative to other age groups.

As an example, let’s consider how people give. Here, there are some similarities between Boomer and Civic donors, just as there are between Gen Y and the Millennial donors behind them:

Boomers respond to and give by mail and – like Civics – are not frequent users of mobile/SMS or social media networks to engage with non-profit organizations. Boomers tend to do online what they are already doing via other channels (such as retail shopping and banking), so working within their comfort zone is critical to keep them engaged.

Through our cross-Canada research for The Next Generation of Canadian Giving, in partnership with Convio and hjc, we also learned that Boomers are quite responsive to online petitions, as they are to email and online newsletters.

So it makes sense to send Boomers a personal email with a Petition, embedded video, or a podcast from someone they are familiar with. If you’re going to use online engagement with Boomer supporters, make it simple for them to access new content or take an action – and ensure your key content is easy to view/read.

Gen X donors tend to be more frequent users of mobile/SMS technology and social networks than Boomers and they use online tools quite often. Gen X donors demonstrate they are very willing to use new technology — and especially when those tools enhance their current relationships and/or help them save time . Gen X are caught in the time vs. money squeeze as many are building their families and careers.

So try offering your Gen X donors an immediate email tax receipt in exchange for providing their email address. Respond to their individual communication preferences and anticipate their needs for convenience. And although direct mail may not be Gen X’s preferred channel for giving, don’t overlook the fact that they do interact with mail to learn about and keep in touch with your work or cause.

Working with channels in new ways that speak to their needs for time savings and convenience will help you connect to these Canadian donors – and can pay off with increased revenues.

Lastly, it is worth noting that both Boomer and Gen X donors show they are willing to try new ways of interacting with the causes they care about – and therein lies your opportunity to turn them on to new ways of engaging with your organization…

When asked if they would consider participating in a range of online activities, Boomer and Gen X donors responded favourably to:

  • listening to a podcast by an org/cause (33% Boomers, 23% of Civics say they would consider)
  • viewing video content (30%, 25% )
  • signing an online petition (26%, 24%)
  • participating in a live chat (26%, 20%)

This represents a golden opportunity for Canadian non-profits to ‘mind the gap’ and use communications tools and channels more effectively to build relationships with those donors who will be supporting their programs in the years to come.

So whether we are trying to reach new audiences, raise funds, or build a movement, we will need to adopt customized bridging strategies that can link one generation to the next. This will mean using a wide range of tools and channels, in ways that make the most sense for different age groups and individual donors – and accepting that this may sometimes go against the ‘collective wisdom’ and our own pre-conceived notions about them.

You can find more insights and data about Canadian donors by downloading The Next Generation of Canadian Giving.

We welcome your comments!


Deanna Bickford, CRFE is a Senior Consultant, Campaigns & Research at Stratcom. She co-authored the national report, ‘The Next Generation of Canadian Giving,’ which examines donor giving patterns and behavior across age groups.

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