Joe Saxton: Get after those baby boomers while you still can

We might have assumed we have a decade or two to seek money and volunteering from this liberal and generous demographic, but we can take nothing for granted, writes our columnist

Joe Saxton
Joe Saxton

Charities have been aware for some years of the potential of baby boomers as donors and volunteers.

This bulge of people born just after the Second World War as the result of servicemen returning from military duties and making up for lost time is large in number. In the UK, about 20 per cent more babies were born in 1947 than in 1945. There are more than 11,000 Wikipedia entries for 1947 births, compared with 8,000 for five years earlier. The boom of babies born between 1947 and 1964 has produced a generation of people who are more liberal, more generous and wealthier than the generations before and after.

In this there is nothing new. What has changed is that, given the ageing population, people like me have assumed that we have another decade or two to pin down baby boomers as donors, legators or volunteers. The deaths of the first baby boomers – famous people such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher and Rick Parfitt – remind us not only how frail human life is, but also that we can take nothing for granted. Baby boomers are already beginning to shuffle off this mortal coil. Indeed, it is estimated that in the US, which shares a similar baby boomer demographic to ours, a quarter of baby boomers have died already.

The reason this matters is that nothing about fundraising over the next decade is going to be easy. Tighter fundraising self-regulation, tighter data-protection policies from the Information Commissioner’s Office and a general saturation of the market is going to make mass-market individual fundraising much more difficult. So a greater investment in reaching wealthy individual baby boomers matters now more than ever. Not all baby boomers have the wealth of Bowie, but they tend to have better pensions, to have bought properties early in their lives and to have grown up seeing the difference that charities can make.

But the unusual bulge of deaths in 2016 means any organisation that hopes to get a donation or a legacy from its baby boomer supporters cannot afford to waste any time; even more so if it hopes to get baby boomers volunteering. This is not just about getting round to asking, because baby boomers are a demanding bunch.

Data from our public tracking research shows this. The under-24s are happy for just 43 per cent of their donations to go on helping beneficiaries, but the over-65s want 66 per cent of it to do so. Conversely, the over-65s want just 10 per cent of their donations spent on fundraising, whereas the under-24s are happy for 19 per cent to go this way. Moreover, the research reveals boomers wanting charities to show donors how their money is well spent, and for transparency and honesty to be the norm.

All this points towards relationship-building with individuals, or small groups of donors, to get the right message across. None of this is quick or easy. One major donor fundraiser told me it took him four years of relationship-building to get his first six-figure donation from one individual. Four years. My message to any charity is simple: invest in people to build your relationships with donors, and start today. There might not be a moment to lose. And let’s just hope we have baby boomers such as Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and James Taylor with us for many years to come.

Joe Saxton is the founder and driver of ideas at the research consultancy nfpSynergy.

If you’re interested in fundraising, you can’t miss Third Sector’s Annual Fundraising Conference on 23 and 24 May. Click here for more information and to book at the Early Bird rate.

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