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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
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December 2012
Published by Lisa Sargent

Welcome, Nonprofit Professionals:

Last month Loyalty Letter readers voted on the article they wanted me to write next. The winner was "Connecting with Older Donors"... find it below. (Thanks to all who voted!)

Happy December to you and yours. And may all your holiday campaigns be blockbusters!

Thanks, as always, for reading,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

Ideas for Connecting with Your Older Donors:
Why It Matters, How to Do Better
(Includes Older Donor Profile)

Older donors. They're the lifeblood of fundraising, as you'll see here. BUT to raise more money from them, you must know how to connect with them. This article gets you moving in the right direction on all things...

Make no mistake. Seniors are a force with which to be reckoned, folks. Consider:

1.) By 2030, one out of every five people in the U.S. will be over age 65. (Via Joanne Fritz at; find her excellent US-focused facts list here.)

2.) In the UK, the population of people over age 65 will nearly double between now and 2050. (Parliament UK's website, here.)

3.) In Australia, the rise is similar -- a growth of 65-plus people from around 13 percent of the population in 2002 to 25 percent (one in four) by 2042. (Australian Government website, here.)

Now consider how older donors give, and they become a fundraising force of massive potential...

Blackbaud's November 2012 Donor Perspectives whitepaper reports "the average amount donated to charity annually increased with age." See how much, on average:

1.) In the US, donors over age 65 gave over 2X as much as donors aged 25-34.

2.) In the UK, it's similar. Donors 55-64 gave double their 25-34 year old counterparts.

3.) And in Australia, again --- donors 65+ gave twice as much as donors 25-34.

Here's the problem, though. Unless you are 65+ too, older donors don't think like you do.

They don't think like me, either. The world in which they grew up was (much) different from ours. Their brains aren't focused on the same things as our brains. They face different life issues than we do.

To connect with, communicate with, and inspire them to give, you must be sensitive to those very things you may never have experienced. Only then can you weave it into your message.

The older donor profile below, I hope, will help you walk a mile in their shoes. Where relevant I also include tips and supporting sources you can use.


Your Nonprofit's Average Age 65+ Charitable Donor...

... Is female.

... Is retired.

... Was born in 1947 or before (as of 2012).
Tips and resources: Weave nostalgia into your communications with older donors; it's effective. Nostalgia often taps feelings of gratitude and can also be aspirational -- giving older donors a chance to right old wrongs or rewrite a piece of their personal history. (Support: see CBSNews and Psychology Today articles. And, resource: writeup on a 2009 study in FundraisingSuccess on the use of nostalgia as a fundraising tool. And lastly, US-focused nostalgia book to buy: paint a detailed picture of a time you've never experienced with The Mindset Lists of American History.)

... Is still more comfortable with direct mail. Yes, you still need to know how to do direct mail right --- donor newsletters, appeals, good old-fashioned thank you letters. Sorry to break the news. But, at least in the U.S., the older donor...

... Is increasingly comfortable online (only not exactly how you think). Convio's The Next Generation of American Giving puts it best, saying though older donors may give by direct mail, "websites are often consulted before checks are written." All that stuff you've been reading about campaign integration? It's spot on.

... Does not view or process information like you do! Unless you reach for reading glasses the minute you bring your mail in... or use the enlarge button on your laptop more and more... then you MUST read this: older donors do not see your donor communications -- online or offline -- like you see them. Not even close.

Resource: I wrote about some of the key processing differences -- and ways to make donor communications more friendly for older eyes, here. (Joanne Fritz also has a superb article at

... Is more likely religious.

Tip: refer to my article on "Words for the Faithful" for ways to sprinkle your copy with words that resonate with a Christian audience, yet won't offend others. And see sidebar for valuable reader feedback re: "Faithful".

... May be dealing with a spouse's or their own health and mobility issues. (Huge!) They may want to attend your events but can't because they care for a spouse with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's... they may be in less-than-tip-top health themselves. (You will hear: "I just can't get out like I used to.")

Does it mean they don't want to give or get involved? No! This is the very time of their life when they're thinking of how to leave their mark! (If you're looking to build your legacy program -- and by this point you should be leaping to your feet shouting "YES!" -- see my article on how to overcome bequest barriers.)

Tip: if you host fundraising events or program tours, consider that some of your best donors may want to attend, but physically can't. Think instead of ways to bring your work to donors. See one brilliant and thoughtful approach from Kimberley Mackenzie.

... Faces the loss of control and "consultative authority."

This is a telling phrase from one of the best books I've read in a long time, called How to Say It to Seniors by David Solie. (Hat tip to my pal Tom Ahern for alerting me to it. imho, it's required reading.) Their minds are quite sharp indeed, thank you very much. But the older these donors get, the more decisions may be made for them, according to or against their will. (My late, beloved 83-year-old Mom once recounted an experience she'd had with indifferent medical care before she passed away, saying, "It's like I was invisible." Can you imagine how awful -- how dehumanizing -- the feeling?)

... May have "bounce back kids" (and grandkids) living with them. Resources may be tight, and they can't give as much as they'd like.

How can you be sensitive to, especially, these last three points?

Three ideas:

1.) Give them options for different ways to get involved.

2.) Ask for less. (Yes, I said it. If you can identify folks who are older and haven't given in awhile, it's quite possible that they don't see themselves as "lapsed" at all. They're just taking a break - so find out who they are and keep them connected.)

3.) Supply enough properly designed information and resources in your written appeals that they can read and make their own decision - don't write appeals that talk "at them."

There's plenty more flesh you can add to the bones of my senior donor profile, I'm sure.

But I hope this is a helpful ingress into their world. Happy communicating... and happy connecting!

P.S. Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy:
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And lastly, if ever you have a question on donor communications,
send it along to The Loyalty Letter. All you have to do is:

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One of the best books I've read on communicating with your older donors.

How to Say It To Seniors
(Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders)

by David Solie

Full disclosure: I don't get a referral fee for any of my recommendations. Just sharing for sharing's sake.


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