The fundraiser’s guide to understanding older people

If you’re under 60, you don’t get it.

There are reasons our donor files are dominated by the elderly: For one, accumulating years bring wisdom, and wisdom tells you that giving stuff away is one of the better things you can do.

Even more, changes in brain chemistry that come with age push older people toward being more empathetic and other-focused. Both prime qualities for generosity.

Unfortunately, a lot of us just don’t “get” these people. We just see their unstylishness, their tendency to do things slowly, the odd habits they bring from a past we don’t share with them.

With so many older Americans living in age-segregated communities, we don’t come into contact with as many older people as often as we used to.

So if you want to get it, you’re going to have to seek them out. Spend time with your own older family members. If that’s unbearable, find some others. Maybe you’ll need to volunteer at a retirement or assisted living facility.

Notice what annoys them. What makes them laugh. What breaks their hearts.

See what concepts just go over their heads, and what they grasp easily and immediately.

Note how much time they spend trying to see clearly, fussing with their glasses and the distance between their eyes and what they’re trying to read.

Listen to how they talk, what they talk about, what they avoid talking about.

In most of these things, they will be different from you.

And that difference is the fundraising gold you’ll mine from your time with them. Never mind the wisdom and pleasure that’s in store when you find old friends.

(This post first appeared on May 6, 2010.)


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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