How the generation gap is killing your fundraising

One of the main challenges in creating inclusive fundraising is the generation gap.

Fundraising professionals are overwhelmingly under 40.

Donors are overwhelmingly over 60.

You don’t have to be an expert to know that communicating with people 20+ years older (or younger) can be a challenge.

Here are some key differences younger professionals should keep in mind about younger audiences.  These are things you might be drawn to do, because it seems right:

  • They are easily bored. They really like things that are new, fresh, innovative. That means new design styles and never-before-published fonts. It also can mean frequent “re-branding” that changes visual identity away from that old one we got tired of. Even organizational name changes — to creative abstractions donors have never heard of before. 
  • They are drawn to fads. Younger people really love to do things that a lot of other people like them are doing. That’s why exciting things like the Ice Bucket Challenge sweep through the fundraising world … and then disappear like a high tide. Old people are far more likely to be driven by their own values than by what the crowd is doing. 
  • Their eyes work better. Design that leans small or disfluent fonts, poor contrast, and other cool-looking techniques may be perfectly readable — if you’re under 40. Difficult and exclusionary of you aren’t.
  • They don’t read as much. Older people are much more likely to be “readers” than young people. That’s why direct mail is an old peoples’ medium.

Beware of these things! If you’re young, they will tempt you. You’ll feel the pull. You’ll want to do it because you can so vividly imagine it working … on you.

A seasoned communications pro (writer or designer) is hyper-aware of their audience. They know a lot about them, and they know how to remove barriers and connect with their audience. 

I hate to say it, because it’s not universally true, but professionals under 40 are not yet at the peak of their abilities. They’re still learning the challenge of communicating across generations. 

This is important.

It’s great that our industry has a young workforce. That points to a good future.

But it’s a real challenge that can stifle your fundraising now.

If you’re under 40, the solution is largely up to you. Learn about your donors. Not the donors you wish you had, but the donors you actually have. Study them. Think about them. Get to know as many as you can. Love them. 

You’ll raise bucketloads more money.

Here’s a very useful post on LinkedIn by Mark Phillips  of Bullfrog: The past is a foreign country.

Here’s a cautionary tale from Tom Ahern’s Newsletter: How to kill a good message with a bad color choice.

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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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About the blogger

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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