Stop focusing all your efforts on finding 'younger' donors

Stop focusing all your efforts on finding 'younger' donors

Stop focusing all your efforts on finding 'younger' donors

Fundraising | Jonathon Grapsas | 14 Sep 2009

If I had a dollar for every time a fundraiser said to me “We are trying to recruit younger donors”, I wouldn’t be blogging here right now.

My response to this is the same always: why?

Charities are always looking to recruit "younger" donors because they think that’s what they should be doing. Wrong.

Mostly because they hear, are told, or are in fact seeing that traditional recruitment methods (i.e. direct mail) don’t work as they once did.

So the obvious response is, we need to find channels that “younger” people responsd to.

In fact charities should also be spending time looking for better ways to recruit “older donors”.

Before I move on, I’m taking a pretty broad brush here. My definition of “younger” is pretty loose, let’s say under 35 years old. By “older” I’m talking 60 and upwards. Not a science but works for the point of this blog.


Because “older” donors give much, much more and are statistically more likely to stay with you. Fact.

Let me prove it to you.

I undertook some data analysis with a client recently, and looked at the key drivers of attrition across their file.

For every channel we looked at we were able to determine that “younger’ constituents were more likely, in some cases two to three times more likely to cancel their giving than “older” donors. And when you translate that into income, both long and short term that meant “older” donors were giving far, far more.

This is consistent with all of the work we have done with our clients at Pareto Fundraising, in each country we have looked at this in, across varying types of organisations.

The message is always the same.

“Younger” donors stay on for shorter periods of time and hence give less. The reasons are pretty simple, “younger” donors are at a different life stage. Less disposable income, more transient, more likely to have a mortgage, possibly with young children. Bottom line, less income to give away to charity.

So what?

Well, reaching out to find “younger” supporters isn’t necessarily the silver bullet. Finding better ways to attract and engage older constituents is. I’m not suggesting don’t recruit “younger” donors at all, far from it.

What I am saying is get the balance right. And when you do reach out to younger constituents, please, please, please talk to them differently. I’ll save that for another blog though.

Joanne Fritz
21 Sep 2009

You are a brave and wise person, Jonathan. I write a bit about older donors...why they are important, how to be considerate of them...and find that fundraisers are not nearly as interested in the topic as when I write about Twitter.

Young fundraisers are uncomfortable with aging and naturally want to mingle with their own age peers. However, all generations are online now, so it's really not a matter of direct mail vs web 2.0. Using multiple channels is important and will be for some time. Thanks for this blog post!

Leonard Payne
16 Sep 2009

Direct Mail methods no longer work as well because people are getting more skilled at filtering out what they don't want to be interrupted by. Outbound or 'push' campaigns are on the way out or so current wisdom would have us believe. Younger people go for more of the social networking and thats why we see campaigns on Facebook and Twitter etc.

BUT Jonathon notes young people give less for shorter periods of time than older people. (It would be nice to see your research!) Which raises one important question and an observation or suggestion.

Question -- If this is so, how do we approach the older market if direct mail is getting such low responses.

Observation and suggestion --- So younger people give less for shorter periods of time? So what!. Engage then. Talk to them. Give them channels. Give it time. Make it personal. If your cause is worth supporting, you don't just need donors - you need long time evangelists.


Annabel Wallis
16 Sep 2009

I take issue with wholesale dismissal of young versus old. Every brand knows that building lifelong loyalty is the holy grail so the sooner you can get people to show an interest in your work, the better. So what if they dip out in the lean years? They may well come back when their pdi goes up. Also, I've found face to face fundraisers are targeting leafy suburbs with a high concentration of OAPs. I'm not convinced of the ethics of signing up the over 80s to a committed giving product on the doorstep. Please discuss.


Jonathon Grapsas
16 Sep 2009

Hi Leonard and Annabel

Thanks for your comments. The key I've found is ensuring charities understand the key differences in the way different donors behave (I.e. younger v older). Charities that have the most success in delivering the most value from different constituencies are those that develop separate streams of communications depending on age and recruitment method. We all know face to face donors dont respond to mail, so why send it to them? I often hear people say that direct mail is dead, doesnt work as well as it used to. I'm not denying that its harder than ever. But often (there are exceptions) its down to poor execution. I've blogged about this recently.

Even in a mature DM market like Canada, we're still seeing examples of charities delivering solid results (warm and cold) through the mail. If done properly of course. All of the evidence I'm basing this on looks at value to date of various types of recruits. Not implied lifetime value, but actual value. However, the key is not just about looking at data. It's about applying intelligence to the data and providing insights. Data plus intelligence = insights. So if the data tells you younger donors recruited on the street are twice as likely to attrite in year 1, does that mean you stop recruiting younger donors completely? No. As the model would not work and the channel would cease to exist. The intelligence applied to that tells you to talk to these guys in a different way, open up lines of communication they will respond to (email, video, SMS, phone, social networks etc). Thanks again for the feedback and dialogue.


John Brady
16 Sep 2009

Jonathon glad to see life stages mentioned and I'd also add lifecycle. May sound like old hat marketing theory but if w ego back top basics on marketing and identify different segments we did see that on the whole young singletons will soon reach a stage in the cycle where they will have less disposable income and may choose to ditch the charity.

Research on attrition for face to face giving indicated that whilst young people are the most likely demographic to sign up, (or maybe actually be signed up by the young recruiter), they are also the demographic most likely to lapse. Brennan and Saxton (2007) in their analysis of the family expenditure survey highlight that single women and child free households are most likely to have given to charity in the last month and have given larger donations whereas single parents are the least generous. Full report 

We use face to face and telephone and yes do recruit mixed ages. Face to face was great when introduced and still is as it brought in new younger donors. That said we have to accept the down side of attrition.


Jonathon Grapsas
16 Sep 2009

Hi John

Couldnt agree more re younger donors on F2F. All of our clients that recruit significant volumes of donors from the street (in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong etc) see the same thing. When we run the data through some statistical modeling, every time it spits out the same thing.... age is the biggest driver in attrition. I.e. a donor under 30 is around 2-3 times more likely to stop giving within first 12 months than a donor over say 45 or 50. No surprise really. But what this helps to do is solidify the thinking around how to best treat these people, particularly at the key attrition triggers, months 1,2 3 etc...

Cheers Jonathon


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