What is the future of fundraising? At Schultz & Williams, our day-to-day work affords us frequent opportunities to speak with—and learn from—a broad spectrum of donors. These interactions offer insight into why these donors give, as well as their perspectives on today’s philanthropic culture.

In fact, during a recent campaign planning study, I asked two of our client’s major donors whether there were any internal or external circumstances they thought could affect the success of the client’s fundraising efforts.

Their thoughtful responses offered a global perspective on fundraising, philanthropy and generational attitudes far beyond the particular campaign or client in question— perspectives we thought you might enjoy pondering.

Perspective 1:
Young Business Owner from Well-Known Philanthropic Family

A forty-something-year-old business owner from a well-known philanthropic family presents us with our first perspective. As active and generous members of their community, he and his wife are prime targets for every organization in town. Although the attention makes him somewhat uncomfortable, giving to help others is a core family value for him. His parents modeled—and continue to exemplify—this core value, and he and his own family wish to continue the tradition.

While this gentleman and his wife strongly desire exceptional lives for their two young daughters, they also want the girls to understand the value of hard work. They have decided that they will not provide their daughters with an inheritance that could potentially undermine their drive to work hard. This gentleman also wishes to model the importance of philanthropy for his children from a young age, just as it was modeled for him. These decisions are allowing him to be more generous with his money earlier in life.

This donor acknowledges that he may be atypical for his generational peer group, but suspects he might have more like-minded peers than we know about.

Perspective 2:
Established Nationally-Renowned Philanthropist and Businessman

Our second perspective comes to us via a sixty-something-year-old businessman with a national philanthropic reputation, including numerous buildings bearing his name. This donor believes that the majority of nonprofit organizations are wasting energy trying to get younger generations to give, especially at the major gift level. He recognizes that many nonprofits struggle with the awareness that they must continually solicit the same pool of donors. But he believes that this situation is unavoidable.

Throughout his experience on many nonprofit boards, this donor has seen many organizations, both large and small, expend a great deal of effort trying to attract young donors, often to no avail. He suggests that these younger individuals are actively building their personal lives and careers—buying homes, sending children to school or college, and investing in their own development. He views their situation as non-liquid and their current focus as inwardly-directed.

He estimates that an organization would have to cultivate at least 50 40-year-old prospects to raise around $50,000 when one established donor could give that amount in one go. In his view, if securing a $1,000 gift and a $50,000 gift takes the same amount of work, the focus should be on securing the $50,000 gift. He strongly believes that organizations will need to continue tapping into his generation to be sustainable and hopes that when the next generation matures, they too will recognize the importance of giving back.

Food for Thought

These are just two of the unique thoughts and perspectives that regularly surface in our campaign planning studies—insights that call for a “stop and pause” moment. As you consider these two perspectives, we wonder how you would respond to the following questions:

  • How do generational differences impact your specific organization or community?
  • How much of an investment in cultivating the younger generations is worthwhile?
  • How will $1,000 gifts here and there from 30- and 40-year-olds translate into major giving 20 to 30 years down the road?
  • Should we focus more time on building relationships with children of established philanthropists? How does their spirit of philanthropy compare to their parents’ and at what point in time do we see them making their first major gifts?
  • How can we create scenarios in which individuals representing these two differing perspectives interact and generate dialogue that advances our understanding of philanthropy?

Our closing thought to you: As each of us reflects on generational differences, we may find that these perspectives vary more than we might realize. So, then, to what extent should we allow these perspectives to shape our fundraising strategies and philosophies?