As usual, Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog offers pointed advice when he tells nonprofit fundraisiers to stop wasting time prospecting for donors in the under-30 population.

Focus instead, he says, on Boomers, loosely 40- to 60-year olders (more precisely, the 1946-64 birth date cohort), to replace your aging core donors.

I think he's only partly right.

To be sure, the Boomer cohort is where most of the “new” money is to be found today. As documented in our White Paper, Boomers! Navigating the Generational Divide in Fundraising (downloadable from our home page), these folks are already giving generously.

But where to aim your marketing dollars is a tricky proposition. Not the least, it is influenced (or should be) by the flexibility you have budget-wise to allocate spending against long-term seed planting versus near-term income maximization.

Maximizing immediate income translates into finding clones of your current donors. Given the incestuous nature of the direct mail list market, this is effectively what you do if you stick to your most historically proven outside mailing list rentals. Those lists are almost certain to mirror your house file in age profile.

Pushing down the age range requires finding and experimenting with mailing lists, otherwise compatible, that have a younger profile … if you can find them. How much of your mail prospecting budget should be allocated to testing new (and here I'm talking younger) markets? As much as 20% if you can afford it.

However, notice that I've been talking about mail. And looking only at mail, I'd largely agree with Jeff' about chasing the “young” … whereas he'd be adverse, I'd be cautious.

But now we have the online medium to play in as well, and the data is clear that online fundraising is yielding younger donors.

Maybe not droves of them in the under-30 crowd. But plenty who are under-40.

I suspect even Jeff would expect the 100,000+ online donors so far recruited by Barack Obama include a very sizeable under-40 contingent. The same for all the presidential candidates currently campaigning aggressively online. And when all but one of those candidacies are put to rest in 2008, there will be a helluva lot of new, younger donor names available in the list market!

Political names aside, as we've argued in our White Paper, 4 Reasons You Should Care About the Under-40s (downloadable from our home page), there's a strong case for devoting resources — especially online resources — to cultivating this younger garden:

  • First of all, they do give … our data says that 48% of “post-Boomers” already give, and this group gives on average nearly $800 per year.
  • Second, the under-40s have proven immediate value as activists and volunteers. And for many this involvement will translate into later contributions.
  • Third, all brands need to refresh and renew themselves. Starting now to communicate with younger prospects, seeing what does resonate, will provide invaluable insight as you seek to remain relevant across time.
  • Fourth, if you want them later, brand awareness matters now. Our research indicates that post-Boomers are the segment least familiar with the organizations working on issues they already care about. And they're the most likely to give money to organizations they've never heard of before (so established groups need to get in their face).

So perhaps the most prudent strategy is to double-track:

  • Maintain your direct mail focus on the “tried and true” older donor universe, with a healthy budget allocation for testing both audience and messaging to gently nudge down the average donor age;
  • But task your online team to begin delivering the really fresh blood. If you have an active online prospecting program, I guarantee you'll see a younger donor skew in response.


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