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Younger is not better in fundraising right now

Eternal youth is the stuff of many dreams, but in fundraising today, a young person is not a fundraiser’s dream – a mature person is. DMI considers why.

If you know the answers to the first two questions below, you have an excellent memory for really silly, really clever childhood jokes. Here they are:

Why shouldn’t you write with a broken pencil? Because it’s pointless.

What’s green and sits crying in the corner? The incredible Sulk.

OK, so those have nothing to do with fundraising – but this one does: what’s the best way to get donations from people under 40 years of age? Wait until they’re over 40.

The last question was actually asked and answered in a post by fundraising expert Sean Triner (

According to Sean, even face-to-face fundraising – aimed at Generation X – sees older Gen X donors giving more than their younger Gen X peers (in other words, a 45-year-old would donate more than a 35-year-old).

However, this doesn’t mean that younger people should be out of your communication loop. Our digitally connected world is seeing awareness of social challenges at an all-time high, although what you communicate to younger audiences – and how – is a subject for another story.

Prioritise acquisition

While it does make sense to attract supporters while they’re young since this makes it more likely they’ll donate to your cause as they mature, Sean suggests that this shouldn’t be a primary strategy.

He asks: wouldn’t it be easier to acquire the (older) more valuable donors NOW, and adopt the longer-term “get ‘em in young” strategy only once you have more of the older donors?

In DMI’s experience, the typical individual donor is indeed older; and this holds true across a broad range of non-profit organisations, regardless of the cause. It is also a wise NPO that continually invests in donor acquisition, since it makes sense to prioritise finding more of the same kind of donors who are already donating to you.

DMI would also agree with Sean’s suggestions around analysing a donor database by age, since there is usually strong correlation between age and meaningful fundraising metrics.
Generally, older donors tend to show:

  • Higher average donations;
  • Higher second gift rates;
  • Higher retention (especially in monthly giving);
  • A higher lifetime value;
  • A higher chance of being bequest prospects;
  • A higher chance of becoming a major donor; and
  • A higher chance of responding to most of your communications.

Who are they?

As we inch closer to the end of the first quarter, take a step back and examine your fundraising audiences. Ask questions.

Within your individual giving programme, who is currently donating to you? What’s their average age? Are they mostly men, mostly women – or a balance of the two?

Also set out to identify where your donors originally came from. Can you isolate the source/s of your active donors? When does their giving peak?

Having this insight will help you to begin mapping out an acquisition strategy that’s designed to reach out to the right people, through the right channels, at the right time.

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