Monday, February 14, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Institutional Donors versus the Baby Boomers and Younger Generations

The headline in The New York Times screamed, "Donors Demand a Bigger Voice in Catholic Schools."

But, the real story isn’t just about the donor demands on Catholic schools; it’s about the shift in mindset and expectations of younger donors when compared to their elders. What is the age of these younger donors? How about 72? Remember, the oldest Boomers turn 65 this year. And the youngest edge of the WWII generational cohort (1922 to 1945) is closer to the charitable ethos of the Boomer generational cohort than the Depression era cohort (1912 to 1921).

What does this have to do with faith-based fund raising? Simply put, it is a sea change in attitude that not only Catholic nonprofit organizations are going to have to adapt to but all faith-based organizations.

“The relationship between the church and its contributors used to be basically, ‘Pray, pay and obey – give us money, we’ll take it from there,'" said Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, a national network of Catholic philanthropies.

In general, the Depression and WWII era cohorts are institutional givers. They are what Mr. Butler refers to as the Pray, pay and obey generations; they also are, in my experience with established faith-based nonprofit organizations, the VAST MAJORITY of the current donor base for faith-based nonprofits today. The Depression and WWII cohorts make up less than 12% of the population and their numbers are rapidly declining, yet they represent as high as 90% of some donor databases I have audited. This over-dependence on two declining generational cohorts is hugely problematic on many levels for established faith-based organizations. But, with the inevitable rise in the proportion of Boomers and younger cohorts as donors to faith-based organizations, these non-institutionally oriented younger donors have different expectations.

Accountability, transparency, heightened relationship engagement and even donor involvement are several of the key qualifiers for faith-based organizations that hope to increase younger constituent donors in the Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generational cohorts.


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