How younger fundraisers can win over older donors

An elderly hand holds a child's hand.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Millennial, Gen X or even Baby Boomer fundraiser – chances are, you’re regularly working with donors who are older than you.

A recent study here in Canada found that donors aged 50 and older account for 74 per cent of all donations, while those 70 and older make up 30 per cent of gifts.

Intergenerational communication can pose a host of challenges – but luckily, many of the skills and behaviours you need to work effectively with older donors will make you a more successful fundraiser all round.

Here are three ways younger fundraisers (read: all of us!) can win over older donors.

Practice the most important skill in fundraising

There’s one skill you can work on cultivating that will make all the difference when you’re communicating with your major donors – or anyone who supports your cause.

And that skill is curiosity.

So, before your next thank you call or donor meeting, sit down and get curious about your donor.

What kind of questions might you like to ask to better understand the donor’s story? How can you uncover the values that drive their giving?

When you’re cultivating the skill of curiosity with your donors, focus on using open ended questions, which require a more thoughtful answer, as opposed to closed ended questions, that can be answered with yes or no.

Curiosity will serve you well in all of your fundraising work – from planning and strategizing, to donor meetings, to leading a team, curiosity may just be the most sought-after soft skill of the future.

Focus on building trust

There’s one simple way we can make huge strides in building trust with donors of all ages – and it goes something like this:

Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.

If you promise you’re going to call by a certain date, call by that date.

If you ask them for a gift to support important work, report back on the impact of their donation in a timely fashion.

If a donor shares their communication preferences, take note, and respect their request.

Like many things in life, this is simple – but not easy! Your organization needs the right systems, priorities and culture to build trust with older donors.

Prioritize accessibility

Here’s a mistake I only made once.

I was booking an important lunch with an older major donor who was hard of hearing. I suggested a restaurant I’d never been to, but it was close to her home, so I thought it would be convenient spot to meet.

When we arrived, the restaurant was so noisy, we couldn’t carry on a conversation. She became frustrated, and we had to cut our meeting short.

Luckily, she was understanding, and I was able to rebook our lunch at a quieter location – and ever since, I always make sure to check out a meeting venue in advance for accessibility.

Accessibility is important for donors of all ages – including your older donors, a growing number of whom are likely using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. A recent study out of the US indicated that nearly a quarter of people age 65 and over regularly use a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter.

What skills, practices and priorities do you find important when building relationships across generations of donors? We often talk about how to attract younger donors – but we also need to focus on working effectively with older donors, who will continue to make up the majority of donors for the foreseeable future.

This post is inspired by a recent HBR article, How Younger Salespeople Can Win Over Older Customers, which includes lots of great tips that would also work well for fundraisers.

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraising expert with 20+ years experience raising over $100M across the arts, education, health and human services sectors. Find out how to raise more 5, 6 and 7-figure donations your non-profit - book your free Major Gift Strategy Session now.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts