oldercouple 2013-Dec05
We are a society that values youth.  We want to look young, feel young, be young… forever it seems.  Billions are spent trying to recapture a youthful look.  Essentially, I would say our society is obsessed with it.
And as Richard and I meet MGOs and fundraising professionals around the country, it’s no different.  You LOVE young donors.  “Gosh, our donor file is getting so old. We have to bring in more new donors.”  “If we don’t start acquiring younger major donors we won’t be around in a few years.”  And so it goes … on and on.
Just recently I was asking an MGO what she was most concerned about these days and she said, “Well our major donor file is full of old people.”  I said, “Huh?  Why aren’t you shouting for joy from the rooftops?  You should feel lucky that you have so many older donors.”
You see, major gift officers, “old people,” aged 60-85, are your gold mine.  These are the folks who hold the wealth in this country.  Yet you are constantly lamenting the fact that you don’t have enough younger donors.
Don’t worry about younger donors.  They are doing just fine giving in your direct-response and mid-level programs. (Hopefully you have these.)  They are still busy getting their children through college and paying off debt.   Take good care of them in these programs.
Now, of course there will always be exceptions. But the vast majority of major donors are going to be between 60-85.
Are YOU comfortable with that?
I’m not so sure.  I’m thinking you are quite uncomfortable with that.  Perhaps one of the reasons you are obsessed with young donors is that you can relate to them better.
I can understand that.  It’s not always easy to interact with people from another generation.  It can feel unnatural to relate to someone who may be 30-50 years older than you.
This is where you really need to practice empathy.  Empathy, quite simply, is placing yourself in someone else’s shoes.  You are trying to understand who they are so you can better relate to them.  Here are some ways to empathize with an older major donor.

  1. Visit an estate attorney and ask questions about what his or her clients are worried about — This will give you insight on how wealthy, elderly people are thinking about their wealth and leaving it behind.  It will help you understand their desires and, more specifically, what they want to do with their money.
  2. Sit down with a financial planner and find out what older people with great wealth are worried about as they retire – and also what they’re thinking about 10-15 years after they retire — This allows you to understand “their” issues.
  3. Go to the AARP website and read up on issues that retired people are concerned about — Look at articles on health, food, vacation spots, etc., that retired folks are interested in.
  4. Schedule a meeting with a Director of a highend Senior Living Facility — This will give you great insight on what your older major donors care about, how they live, what issues they have and what they worry about.
  5. Visit your major donors in their homes — Go in without a solicitation agenda.  Your sole agenda should be to really get to know them, find out how they live and be with them in THEIR environment.

Remember, having older donors on your donor file is a wonderful thing.  They are the donors who have the wealth to fuel your programs.  Don’t worry about those younger donors.  They’ll be along in 20-30 years.
For now, these are the donors you want to focus your time and energy on.  And, if you don’t feel comfortable with this, perhaps you should find another profession.  Because if you want to be a major gift officer, you have to embrace it.
P.S. I know there are many more ways to empathize with your older major donors.  Richard and I would love to hear some of your ideas to share with the Passionate Giving community.  Thank you.