Generational Differences in Fundraising (Video and Transcript)

#profundraisingtips from Darron Meares - Generational Differences at Fundraising Events

Are there generational differences in fundraising? And if so, what are there different ways to reach out to each generation?

Discussing the opportunities to engage with younger generations, the older generation, and the generation in the middle of it all in a way that makes sense to them.

This session was originally presented by Darron Meares of Bowtie Benefit Auctions at 2017 NAA International Conference.

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Written Transcription

Hey. Thank you for being here today. I’m Darron Meares with Bowtie Benefit Auctions out of South Carolina. I’m happy to be here with Greater Giving.

We’ve been a partner with Greater Giving for several years. One of the topics that I always like to talk about is generational differences. The reason being is, we’re seeing such a shift in fundraising right now because of, and I hate to say it, the attrition rate. The attrition rate is taking over and some of the donors that have always been there and donating, are the ones that are not there, able to go to the events or they’re to the point of saying, “You know what? I’ve done it for so long, I’m ready to move and let somebody else take over.”

The first thing I want to talk about today is, what generations do we have working in these fundraising events, into these committees? We’ve got four generations today, the traditionalist or the ones that were born pre-World War II; we’ve got Baby Boomers post-World War II; we’ve got Generation X which is my generation at about 35-48 years old; then you’ve got the Generation Y and the Millennials.

The Millennials are the ones that we’re really look at right now. The reason being is, they’re the ones that are going to have to come in and tow this load for us. If you look at that demographic, you’re looking at college age to about 34 years old.

The older generations may not be attending as much because, traditionally, these galas are happening at night, and they’re not able to drive. If it’s cold weather, if it’s a rainy night, they’re not able to go out and be a part of that like they were. Like I said originally, you also have this generation that’s saying, “Come on. Have a seat.” You also have this generation that’s saying, “We’ve done this. We’re the ones that have put this together, and we’re ready to retire. We’re ready to move on, and we’re ready to hand this off to someone.” What that does, it puts the onus onto the non-profit to where they have to either cultivate that base now or they have to drop back and figure out how to do it.

The Generation X and Baby Boomers are the ones that are moving forward now as that bridge between the traditionalists and these Millennials. My generation is sort of a bridge in the middle of that, where we’re seeing both sides of this. We’re seeing from the ones that have paved the way to the ones that are having to pick up the pieces. We’re right in the middle, and my generation is getting up in age to that 45 to 50 year old age range, and we’re the ones that’s shouting from the trenches, “Hey, we don’t want to be that group that’s doing all the fundraising without you having someone coming out behind us.” We’re pushing this as much as we can.

How do you engage these Millennials to be a part of these events? One of the things that you can do is encourage them to volunteer at the events, not just running tickets or setting up the silent auction, but actually being a part of that event and moving those friends, those coworkers, people their age, into those positions as well, because you’re not really seeing as much joining as you used to with the generations. This is something that you have to cultivate.

You have to cultivate more opportunities for Generation Y to get in there and actually engage in the process, but you can’t just open the door. You have to give them a voice and you have to listen to them. You have to make sure that when you open that door be prepared for that breath of fresh air that comes in, that you may not be used to. These younger generations, Generation Y, thinks completely different.

The traditionalist, they’re the ones that like to write a letter. The Generation Y, the Millennials like to send a quick text message and maybe missing some vowels in there. There’s a lot of differences, communications, work habit, work style attire. We’re seeing a lot of events move from black tie. We’re seeing more creative casual. We’re seeing more of the, like I call, made up attire. Cocktail casual, garden party casual, whatever it is, these are coming from the younger generations, because they’re saying, “We don’t want to dress in formal attire.” That was cool back in the day, and every so often you like to put on a tuxedo, but it gets old after a while. Especially if you’re in the Southern states where it’s a little warmer. Obviously, that’s where I’m from.

You got to let them know the impact of what they’re doing. The reason being is, you’re starting to see a trend where people are more in tune with where their dollars go. I want to make sure that that dollar does go in a help benefit this group. I want to make sure that this dollar goes in and is used to buy that bus or that text book or that widget. You have to tell them, “Last year we raised X amount of dollars and here’s exactly where it went.” They want to be in tune with this, because they want to know that they made an impact. That’s where a lot of this fundraising is going.

Instant purchases. Instant purchases are huge with younger generations because there’s a lot of impulsivity. Used to, we would go out and hear a song and we would say, “Well, you know what? We’ve got to go to the record store and buy a cassette or a CD.” Now, all you have to do is Pandora, Spotify, any of those. Click a button and it’s on your phone. There’s a lot of impulsivity buying. There’s a lot of instant purchases, and that has to be included in these.

Donations are also impulsive, if there is some impact and some meaning behind that. So, you have to show that it’s not just, “Hey, we’re supporting ABC cause tonight.” It’s, “We’re supporting ABC cause, because we’re going to have this impact.” You’ve got to have a little more of that creative impact to go along with that.

From an event standpoint, you’re starting to see shorter events. One reason is, when you do have traditionalists and Baby Boomers there, they don’t want to stay three and a half or four hours for an all night party. They’re wanting a shorter event. They’re wanting you to open the door at 5:30, have a VIP. They’ll pay extra for that. Have a VIP, stay a little bit in the beginning, donate some money and then leave.

On the flip side of that, some of the Millennials are saying, “I want to arrive later and stay later.” But with the shorter event, you’re starting to see a little more of that impact, because now they can go and do other things after the event.

You’re seeing less items in fundraising. You’re seeing less items in the auctions. You’re seeing less items in the silent auction. You’re not seeing silent auctions in a lot of events now, because you don’t have the hands and the manpower to go in and put that silent auction together like you did five or 10 years ago, when you had a huge volunteer base.

Energizers. Energizers at the event. Things that will spark that interest and get those impulse buyers moving. We’re starting to see a lot of that going in at the front end. Items that you don’t have to procure. A round of drinks. A game of auction chicken. A game of heads or tail. Whatever those games are just to get that spark in there, so that you hit every level of fundraising in that room, and you hit every revenue base in that room, ’cause somebody says, “You know what? I paid $75.00 for my ticket. That’s all I can afford.” Then somebody comes in and says, “You know what? I can give $10,000,” at the same event. But you have to hit every level of that spectrum and hit all of those revenue numbers from top to bottom. These revenue energizers help you to do this.

We’re starting to see this trend where people are dropping the silent action in lieu of doing, maybe, a bucket raffle or there’s, it’s called a tambola wall, where you put all of your gifts on the wall, draw numbers and at the end of the night everybody goes in and sees what prize they won. $1,500 a ticket, that way you still have the items, but you don’t have the setup. You don’t have people having to man the table and watch the items and move the items. At the end of the night, you have one or two people that go up and say, “Okay, you’re number one. Let’s pull box number one off the wall and see the big reveal and see what you won.”

Things like that are moving forward with this, but the generational shift that we’re seeing in society today is hitting fundraising, because nonprofits are having to shift that focus from this, foundation or this trust or this family has always given. Well, when that foundation shifts to another set of hands or that person passes away, you better be ready to cultivate the one that inherits that, because if not you just lost every bit of it.

We’ve got a group now with the Ronald McDonald House in our area that set up a Red Shoe Society. It’s the young professionals group within the Ronald McDonald House. The reason that they’re doing that is so that they can start cultivating that base to move into these positions as attrition sets in.

You’ve got to give them a voice and not a board seat. This isn’t a resume builder, even though you’re going to get a ton of people that want to be building a resume, you’ve got to engage them and open that door and be ready for what comes in.

I appreciate the opportunity to present today. I appreciate Debbie with Greater Giving, allowing me to come in and speak and move forward. If there’s any questions I’ll be happy to answer. Yes?

Speaker 2:

Mention not giving a young professional a board seat and having them a [inaudible 00:11:04]. Are you saying that it’s an addition or that they’re not ready for the board.

Darron Meares:

No, no, no, no. Don’t give them just … oh, good. The question was, am I talking about not giving a board seat in lieu of something else or not giving the board seat at all?

My point with that is, give the board seat so that they’re there, but allow them to work that board seat and be a part of the process, not just to warm that seat. That’s key, because when you have that, you’ve got the board. You’re building your board. You’re building around it, but you want people that are engaged. So that’s key. Thank you for that. Thank you. Anybody else?

Well, out of the 240 people that are around here, I think I covered everything, to thank you very much.

Speaker 3:

What’s your website?

Darron Meares: If you want more information about me, We work from North Carolina to Florida and the Virgin Islands, so I’d be happy to talk to anyone about your event or help with consulting. Thank you.

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