We find ourselves in a unique time—as a society, a workforce, and a sector—when three generations are interacting and leading our professional world in distinct ways. Most of the popular research on generational diversity addresses the two largest generations: Baby Boomers and Millennials. This is true in discussions of nonprofit careers, board service, and, yes, even philanthropy.
As a member of GenX, I often find myself in conversation with colleagues about the role my generation has (and wants) to play in connecting our community around the social sector, particularly in engaged philanthropy.
Quite frankly, I feel left out of the conversation… as someone who’s been involved in nonprofit service for most of my life, I still face generational stereotypes about my willingness to give my time, talent, and treasure. Many of us in GenX are perceived as currently being ͞”too busy” raising our families, thriving in our careers, or paying our bills to be perceived as viable donors or board members. If your nonprofit feels the same way, you may be missing an incredible opportunity in donor and board engagement.
Now, I’m not saying that some of those perceptions are wholly inaccurate. Yes, many of us in GenX are busy and have our money tied up in other ways. I’d say that’s true for most of us, regardless of the generation you identify with. What I’m saying is that leaving an entire generation out of philanthropy altogether does our sector a disservice.
Those same reasons can actually work FOR your nonprofit: GenXers may be well connected in our communities, in the prime of our careers, and want to make the world a better place for our friends and families. Where better to accomplish that than with your nonprofit?
Consider this: there are at least 15 years in between when the Baby Boomers are estimated to roll out of their major philanthropic activity and Millennials come into the primary giving age. What is your organization doing NOW to grow GenX nonprofit engagement? How is your nonprofit engaging and growing donors in all three of these generations (and beyond)?
Here a few strategies to encourage philanthropic engagement with GenX (and others):
1. Start the Conversation.
Fundraising experts say the top reason people don’t give is because they aren’t asked. I’ve led numerous trainings where I’ve asked, ͞”What concerns you most about serving on a board?” Most of the time, those falling in the Generation X crowd say they worry being able to do a great job and whether they can handle the time commitment. As a former board chair, officer, and founder, I tell these folks how wonderful it would be to have board members whose only concern is if they can give enough of their time, talent, and treasure! Yet, when I ask them why they’ve never served, they say they’ve never been asked.
What does the generational make-up of your board look like? Have you shied away from asking members of certain ages to become involved? When was the last time you had a conversation with a potential donor about their personal commitments?
2. It’s Not (Just) Business; It’s Personal.
I’m always looking for ways to show my two children how important it is to connect with others and give back to our community. I am notorious for setting up playdates with fellow consultants or other nonprofit colleagues so that I can surround them with examples of people who “get” working in the nonprofit sector. There are some great resources out there about helping grow a philanthropic mindset (Raising Charitable Children by Carol Weisman is one of my favorites), but I would prefer to show, not tell, my kids about the importance of the work we do in this sector.
In what ways are you engaging donors’ families? What kind of tools can you provide your donors, board members, and volunteers to share the importance of philanthropy for your agency’s (and the sector’s) future? Are you making it easy for donors to personally serve as ambassadors of your mission?
For those GenXers without children, think about how you can connect their career to your mission. Perhaps they have a matching program through their company or they’re allowed work hours to volunteer with a local nonprofit. Almost everyone has an email inbox and email signature; encourage them to use that as an opportunity to brand themselves at their business as “Board Member of ABC Agency” or “Proud & Loyal Donor for XYZ Nonprofit.”
In what ways are you engaging donors’ companies and careers? How can you help them grow professionally while serving as ambassadors of your mission? How are you helping to connect donors’ professional careers with their personal fulfillment?
3. Make Friends with the No-sayers.
I’ll be honest. I get asked a LOT to commit to various nonprofits in our community. Want even more honesty? I say no. A LOT. Even if it’s for a cause I care deeply about, I want to be thoughtful about whatever I am giving philanthropically… most of us GenXers do, especially at this time of our lives. That said, there have been a few organizations that have helped turned my “no” into a “yes” and they’ve done it very simply: by taking no offense at my no, engaging me in smaller ways until I’m able to give more freely and -perhaps most importantly- asking me if they can ask again when the time is right. Simply put, they honor my humanity and individuality while showing me that they still want me to know about all the great work they’re doing.
It’s flattering as a donor to know that the causes you care about care about you. If a nonprofit cares as much about me saying no as they do when I say yes, they’ll have a friend—and probably a donor—for life.
How can you engage GenXers, so that they can learn about you or cause and effort (and spread the word) now—but give more later? Are you helping donors of all ages find creative ways to give, volunteer, and be ambassadors of your mission?
One of the hardest things to acknowledge about generational beliefs is that they very much act like stereotypes. They’re guidelines, not prescriptions.
Just like every board or nonprofit is a different and unique entity, so are your donors and volunteers.
Yet all generations of people have the potential to participate in philanthropy and be engaged with your mission. The real question is: What is your nonprofit willing to do about it?
Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay original post. June 2016.