LEADS FORUM: Who gives? And how do you get them?

By Susan Glenn, Director of Rehabilitation, Firelands Regional Medical Center
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


By Susan Glenn, Director of Rehabilitation, Firelands Regional Medical Center

Member, Leadership Erie County Class of 2009

Charitable organizations find themselves in a bind as they face declining donations and increasing demand for services. In addition, their membership is dwindling and aging at alarming rates and they find themselves in need of new blood. When assessing how to get the most of each generation of philanthropists, one has to look at what interests and motivates them and tailor monetary and volunteer activities accordingly. Getting new members and new money involves appealing to each generation individually rather than marketing requests for help in only one manner. The target groups should be the "Old Guard," the baby boomers, the Generation-Xers, and the Generation-Y group. Each target segment is defined by age and experience.

The "Old Guard," born between 1901 and 1945, has a high level of patriotism. They tend to be conforming and adverse to risk. Labor-driven, they expect direction and are not technologically savvy. They like to recognize the charities to which they contribute, but don't demand much information in return. When requesting funds or time from this generation, a charity must provide supervision and be a recognizable organization.

The baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are more individualistic. They consider things from a less traditional, more non-conformist point of view. They see authority as their peers and they are not averse to taking risks. This is the first generation to experience computerized networking. Philanthropists of this era look at how they can make a difference and find personal satisfaction. They want choices and variability. When requesting funds or time from this generation, social recognition, participation and teamwork are essential.

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, has been much maligned when it comes to philanthropy. The older groups often see it as self-centered and driven to personal gain. Xers demand more information about the organizations they support than any previous generation. They research the financial status and personnel of an organization prior to offering their support. Despite their reputation, research show Xers give nearly twice as much as the boomer generation, when they have enough information about the organization. When requesting funds or time from this generation, charities must provide a strong website and easy access to financial statements if they expect assistance.

Generation Y, born between 1980 and the mid-90s, is known as the "Internet Generation." Members of Y are generally the most technologically savvy of all the groups. They want to blend their work and philanthropic lives. This is the first generation that has been exposed to college-level class work in nonprofit management. This generation is volunteering its time in growing numbers as seen in college students who spend their breaks helping Hurricane Katrina relief, Habitat for Humanity, and other worthy causes. They seek work and opportunities in the not-for-profit arena more than any other group. When requesting funds or time from this generation, an organization must demonstrate how the organization is changing current political policies. An organization would also be wise to stress the social responsibility aspects of their goals.

What about generations of the future? What will they learn from each of the previous generations? Patriotism and sense of civic duty from the "Old Guard," personal satisfaction and teamwork from the Baby Boomers, information seeking from the Gen Xers or techno-skills from the Y generation? Or perhaps a blend of all of these? Research shows there are four main domains from which children learn philanthropy: home, school, religious community and youth programs. Current leaders can cultivate these young philanthropists-to-be. Programs such as Strength in Sharing -- Philanthropy in Scouting and Learning to Give and entire Web sites are dedicated to teaching our children about philanthropy. For the first time, a structured guide is available to instruct the next generation about the art of giving.

As organizations plan their annual campaign drives and update their Web sites to minimize the impact of fewer dollars, they must keep their audiences in mind and tailor their efforts to capture each generation's "motivators." The days of one-size-fits-all charity drives have disappeared.