Over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with many outstanding organizational, corporate and philanthropic leaders about our clients and their plans, and about the fundraising climate in general. One message that I recently heard, again, from a Board president is that nonprofits need to engage the next generation of donors—at their current capacity—in order to build their long-term philanthropic commitment to the organization. An investment in the next generation of donors must come alongside efforts to reach the community’s most prominent “old guard” philanthropists—the “usual suspects”—whose philanthropic priorities may stem as much from civic duty as from personal passions.
Too many organizations dismiss young people—junior corporate executives, entrepreneurs, second-generation philanthropists—as lower-tier donors. Or they assume that the expenses required by these younger potential donors at this particular stage of life—children’s education, home purchases, saving for retirement, etc.—preclude them from giving.
But we all know that donors give the most to organizations that are meaningful to them and with which they participate. Organizations such as zoos, museums, land conservancies, libraries and performing arts groups have a tremendous opportunity to engage donors with young families in their programming and to touch them frequently. Inasmuch as these prospects are busy people, they greatly appreciate an organization which offers them memorable experiences with their children.
One of our clients, a healthcare organization, used the public phase of its last major capital campaign to identify mid-level donors who have greater capacity to give. Over the past decade—as they have cultivated and stewarded this group through a special series of events for their giving society, the major gifts staff has been able to identify individuals who are now making five- and six-figure gifts to their current campaign. I am confident that they can count on even higher levels of giving from some of these donors as their assets grow and their level of interest intensifies.
This is the principle that motivates independent schools and colleges to solicit class gifts from graduating seniors and provide recognition for consecutive years’ giving, even at low levels. Inculcating a sense of pride in supporting the institution and opening the lines of communication to work toward more significant gifts over time will yield a much greater lifetime value for these donors.
Does your organization have an accessible constituency of younger donors with high earning potential? Review your data for giving trends, wealth ratings and corporate connections in order to identify these next generation prospects. Then define unique programming that will be attractive to them and will also offer an opportunity to regularly tell your organization’s story. Define leadership opportunities that are suitable for these constituents. While fewer large corporations are requiring their young executives to participate in this kind of community service, everyone appreciates the chance to network. Finally, provide a recognition program that shows these donors how much you appreciate that they have made your organization a philanthropic priority for their more limited resources.
It can be challenging to find ways to devote resources to a group that does not yield a strong return on investment in the short term, but consider this: Once you lose these constituents programmatically, it is extremely difficult to reengage them as donors.
Make sure your organization offers every potential donor the opportunity to give. If you don’t, someone else will!