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Friday, January 19, 2018

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The age of the typical US donor is...
Tom Ahern

June, 2012

Rise of the baby boomers -- again?


Now entering the fundraising arena: the next big generation of donors. In the US, they will be ages 55-75.     



It was a simple question.


"What do you think is the average age of a U.S. donor?" I asked Jeff Brooks.


Jeff's job is to write successful fundraising packages for brand-name charities. He works at a national direct mail house, as one of two creative directors. He has access to lots of data. He has decades of high-level experience. If anyone would know about age, it would be Jeff. 


"I think saying 65 and up," he answered, "is about as accurate as possible for an across-the-board number."


There's a professional reason you want to know your typical donor's average age, when you're creating donor communications such as appeals, newsletters, and websites. And that reason is.... 


To write persuasive copy, you need to see the person you're writing to ... in your head.


As the late, very great George Smith advised, every communication with donors should sound like conversationNot a speech. Not an essay.Not a sales brochure. Just a talk, between two friendly people concerned about something important.


Well, as it happens, I can easily envision what someone 65 looks like. All I need is a mirror. I am 64.


And you know who else is just beginning to turn 65?


The baby boom generation: people born between 1946 and 1964, during the procreative orgy that exploded after World War Two. In that conflict, 60 million died. The subsequent baby boom produced 76 million new humans in the United States alone.


Now those same newborns are aging into their prime charitable years.


"Involuntary lapsing" ... a.k.a., death


Successful marketing communications - donor or otherwise - all begin with an analysis of the interests and psychological triggers likely to be present in the target audience. That's how you sell. You speak to the interests and psychological needs of your audience. 


You're not thinking, "What do I want to say?"


You're thinking, "What does my target audience want and need to hear?"


Which means, as a copywriter, I need to know your age.


Age definitely matters. You as a 20-something ... are different than you as a 40-something ... are different than you as a 60-something ... are different than you as an 80-something. 


Jeff Brooks did allow that average donor age "varies by organization and sector." But this was for sure: "One thing we've seen is that charitable giving as a sustained lifestyle-type activity is not meaningfully found until around age 55." I quickly checked my own behavior as a donor. He was right, at least about me. 


"The behavior picks up steam in the following years," said Jeff, "gets truly meaningful around 65, keeps growing, then starts to drop some time after 75.


"The drop-off at the upper end is caused by 'involuntary lapsing.'"


I.e., death.


Ages 55-75: that's a 20-year window of high returns. Focus on baby boomers now.  


There are younger donors ... just not in America


Jeff had a postscript: "The smart thing to do is to increase your 55-65 donors. They have higher average gifts and long life expectancy, which gives them the best long-term value. If we could get all the misguided energy for finding 'young donors' aimed at this group, it would be a very good thing."


Amen, brother. At least in America.


Outside America, there are LOADS of younger donors giving to charity ... in Australia, the UK, Germany; pretty much globally. But not so much in the United States, for one obvious reason. We haven't embraced street fundraising.

It works like this: the donor, acquired in a street encounter with a bonded representative of a charity, agrees to make an automatic gift every month, from her credit card or bank account.

"Street" fundraising - or "face to face" fundraising, as it is known outside the US - has cracked one of the fundraising industry's toughest barriers.


It's acquired  the elusive "younger donor."


Street fundraising only attracts the young. Pedestrians in their 40s and above shun it. Street fundraising is peer-to-peer fundraising, practiced on an especially dewy demographic. In fact, the young and attractive professional crews who raise money on the streets are trained to ignore older walkers. (Trust me: we don't mind.) 

Younger donors are flighty, though.


"One thing I learned about street fundraising that was fascinating," Jeff Brooks remarked. "They keep the donors longer if they don't cultivate them at all. Any kind of feedback - thank-you messages, newsletters, whatever - just remind these fickle donors to cancel the revolving credit card charge."


News reporters deride street fundraising as "chugging," short for "charity mugging." Catcall all you want: in expert hands, it's extraordinarily effective at bringing in big bucks for brand-name charities.

In Australia, more than a third of the charity collected each year comes from what's called Down Under "regular giving," otherwise known as monthly giving or sustainer giving.

And much of that regular/monthly/sustainer giving begins on the streets of a city when a personable young chugger smiles and intercepts an equally young passerby, to ask, "Would you be willing to help a child in need?"
Check out Tom Ahern at 


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