Generational Perspective is Factor in Seeking Major Gifts

Not My Father’s or Grandfather’s Case

The past months have been an amazing period in our history in terms of the range of talent, demographics, age, diversity and platforms of our presidential candidates. Our president continues to work on improving our economy, and nonprofits continue to be concerned about current giving trends, asking “How long until we rebound?”

As I ponder this question and speak with people from multiple generations about their values and future needs, I realize the tremendous opportunity that “generational perspective” affords in securing major gifts during this challenging time – regardless of income, race or gender.

It is important for nonprofits to develop a case that is relevant to the needs and wants of the donor, which are often strongly impacted and formed by their given generation. A case that would capture the heart of my grandfather would not engage my father, and a case that moved my father to give would not move me to give. We must develop a case that is flexible enough to address the varying needs and values of every generation, or the commonalities of all generations.

Growing up in a family with a Republican father who was the head of the GOP in Ohio, and a Democratic grandfather, who was a party leader from Tennessee and who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the belief that philanthropy and involvement for the good of the community is vital has been passed down to me through the generations. However, in spite of strong role models for giving preferences, events occurring during my middle school years through college and beyond were actually the most formative in impacting my passions and my giving patterns. My guess is that holds true for most of us.

Recognize Donors Come From Different Generations

To successfully solicit major gifts, we must recognize potential donors are of different generations, have different cultural backgrounds, and have lived through different major events—all combining to shape their individual viewpoints. To have a case that resonates with the most donors, we must make every effort to keep our case flexible, taking great care to address the differing life experiences of potential donors when we visit with or write to them.

A World War II veteran who witnessed the atrocities of Hitler and came home to ticker tape parades has a different perspective and giving philosophy from a Boomer, like me, who came of age during the turbulent Vietnam War era and witnessed the Kennedy assassinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. We think differently about ourselves and about our world. You can’t ask me for a gift using the same case you would have used for my father. It wouldn’t work.

Consider Historical Events Per Generation

I believe each generation has its own perspectives on giving and social responsibility based upon their personal common life experiences – regardless of party affiliation, race, gender or age. Of course, each person is different, but there is a common undercurrent of understanding among people who have experienced the same major events. Being aware of those events and how they may have formed a donor’s views and self-perception could very well make the difference in securing a gift.

Being able to discuss events shared by all generations can also create common values and goals for your case. A good example is 9-11. Among Americans, there is a shared understanding of how we all felt watching those twin towers collapse – whether from San Francisco, Austin, Cleveland, Chapel Hill or Miami. At that exact same time, Americans all over the world shared that experience, and we all grieved – together.

When we plan a visit, we must take time to consider what major events may have shaped a potential donor’s perspectives, needs and giving philosophy. By appreciating all our donors and recognizing what we have shared and experienced at a given point in history, we can find common ground to have meaningful dialogue for our nonprofits. I have great faith that all generations will generously support our nonprofits in these difficult times, if we take the time to recognize our different life experiences while celebrating our great commonality – that we are all part of one global community.

On October 18th, 2010, posted in: Capacity Building, Generational Giving, Major Gifts by

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