Strategy & Marketing

Face the Truth: Fundraising is About Older People

Everybody wants to reach “the next generation,” and I can understand that.  So when non-profits come to us for help, they want to focus on the 20-something crowd, and make sure their website is hip and cool and appeals to younger people.  But the brutal truth is – when it comes to fundraising, older folks still carry the load.  Pop music belongs to the young, but trust me – giving belongs to the old.  That’s not to say we should turn off younger people, but don’t be fooled by the illusion that they will actually support your cause.

People will reply:  “Remember the massive amount of money that was raised through text messaging by young people after the Haiti earthquake?”

Yes I do, but where is it now?  Young people are impulse givers.  They get emotional and shed a few tears, and will text a $10 gift.  But soon after, they’re off to the next big thing.  It’s the older crowd that continues to give for the long term.  The millions that were raised for Haiti or the Live Aid concerts are really peanuts compared to the long-term, sustainable giving that age 50 and older people do on a daily basis.

There’s lots of reasons that I don’t have time for now, but suffice it to say – focus on the older audience if you need to raise serious money.

By the way – that doesn’t mean your TV, radio, or web campaigns have to be traditional or stodgy.  Even old people want to be cool.  But focus it on their interests, their values, and their goals.

Your chances of success will be much greater.  My advice?  Raise MONEY from the older audience, but raise your PERCEPTION with the young.  After all, they’ll be the next generation of givers.


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  1. Grey Matter Research just completed a major study in conjunction with the Russ Reid Company about donor behavior. We found people 70 and older were more likely than any other age group to give to non-profits (we separated church giving as a separate category). They also gave more money per year, and they gave more generously than other groups (meaning their giving represented a higher-than-average proportion of their household income).

    As for direct mail being dead, far from it. The most generous donors and the largest donors still use it copiously. Even among the youngest donors (18 – 24), 41% had used mail for a gift in the last year.

    There’s lots more in this study – e-mail me if you’d like a copy of the executive summary (

  2. I remember sitting by a 20 something at an international fund raising conference last year. He asked me what I was planning to speak about and I answered “direct mail.” He looks at me like I was crazy, and begin to explain that mail was dead, he was advising “all his clients” that e fundraising was the only thing that was working. He had no understanding of your point, Phil. 79% of all gifts from those born before 1945, and 55% of all gifts from the baby boomers come via the mail. And those two groups make up 90% of all giving. Ignore them, how they want to be communicated with, and you are doomed.

  3. Christian television has always been funded by the 55+ audience.  Resent research showed that younger people are more concerned about humanitarian aid and felt needs (disaster relief, hunger, orphans, etc.) and want to actively engage in making a difference.  That can translate into donations, mission trips, service projects, etc.

    People 55+ tend to become more concerned about educational and spiritual issues (salvation, healing, restoration, etc.) – and leaving a legacy after they are gone.  This translates into donations for ministries and universities.

    I had a client a few years ago that produced one of the hippest shows on TV.  They were excited about how edgy their program was, compared to most Christian TV fare. It was and is a great show. They were certain they were reaching a younger crowd, and on first exposure I tended to agree with them.  However, once we studied the Nielsen reports we discovered that their audience was pretty much demographically the same as their more conservatice brethren (45-54 and 55+).

    The “older” folks were watching because the program was good, the content was great, and the production was cool.  They donated because their gift was making a spiritual impact.

    Don’t be afraid to be a little edgy  – just be sure your content is worth watching.


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