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Effective Fundraising Techniques for Reaching Greatest Generation Donors

communications fundraising relationship building Dec 18, 2020

As every fundraiser knows, donors are a set of very diverse of people. Characteristics vary by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and socio-economic status among others. But an individualized communication to every one of hundreds or thousands of donors is too costly to implement. You must group your donors into subsets. You can then explore fundraising techniques that create a few variations of activities that speak to a certain subset in a meaningful way. One of the easiest ways to create successful fundraising campaigns is to group donors into subsets by age. That way, you can use fundraising techniques that are successful at reaching different age cohorts. Generational information is available at no cost through the census bureau and The Center for Generational Kinetics. Today, we talk about using specific fundraising techniques to shape your development and donor communications plan so you can best reach donors who are part of the Greatest Generation.

Greatest Generation Donor Cohort Characteristics

The Greatest Generation is the oldest generational cohort currently alive, born 1945 and earlier. They lived through the Great Depression and/or World War II, when money was tight and resources to meet everyday needs were rationed. Having to rely on themselves to make up for what was lacking, they became extremely self-sufficient and thrifty. They pride themselves on being able to take care of their own needs and not asking for help. They also tend to scrutinize spending habits and be critical of extravagance and waste.

At present, the Greatest Generation comprises 11.8 of the United States population. However, according to the Charitable Giving in the USA 2019, Greatest Generation members make up 26 percent of the country’s total charitable giving. Fifty-two percent of them donate and 24 percent volunteer. According to “The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generation Z, Y, X, Baby Boomers and Matures” by the Blackbaud Institute, top causes for Greatest Generation donors include emergency relief, troops and veterans, the arts, advocacy and election campaigns. Greatest Generation donors give an average of $1,367 a year across 6.2 nonprofits. Seventy-two percent donate in-kind goods and services. Greatest Generation donors prefer voice calls and direct mail; however, 30 percent do donate online. They do not respond to text messaging or follow social media.

How do you apply this information to implement a successful fundraising campaign? 

Developing Effective Fundraising Campaigns Aimed to Reach Greatest Generation Donors

If you want to communicate with Greatest Generation donors, communicate to them by direct mail or phone. E-mail campaigns are iffy, including email newsletters. Greatest Generation donors probably won’t view an online video either. Don’t even try text messaging or a social media campaign. Don’t expect Greatest Generation donors to follow you or pay attention to what’s happening on social media either. If you find outliers, great!  Remember, we’re talking general preferences here. There are always variations within groups.

Because thriftiness is such an important value, older donors may appreciate communications that talk about your agency’s efforts at saving money, say through community partnerships that result in lower organizational costs. Or partnerships that give value to clients above and beyond what your agency does. Because they also value self-sufficiency, Greatest Generation donors may contribute to activities that encourage self-sustainability, either for your service recipients or your organization. Greatest Generation donors are also likely to be interested in receiving periodic financial updates.

Unless they are a current major donor, you are likely to get $250 or less though your fundraising campaigns. You will also probably be one of several nonprofits Greatest Generation donors give to. If you ask for tangible things or in-kind donations, you are likely to get them.  For example, a fundraising campaign can contain an appeal for canned goods or gently-used coats or children’s books, to name a few.

Remember too, that Greatest Generation donors are part an aging cohort with probable health and/or mobility issues. If you want older donors to visit your organization or attend an event, make sure the facility is physically accessible. If your facility is not physically accessible, make it a priority. (Do I hear a fundraising campaign in the making?) If you are offering food, make sure that you include food choices that are compatible with older donor dietary needs. This may mean extra lines on that event reply card and extra data input into your donor records, but the added effort is worth the effort. It’s easier to engage a donor who receives the message, “You are important to us. We care about you as a person, not just as a donor.” You get what you give. If you put effort into your meeting donors needs when they interact with you, they are more likely to put effort into continued interactions with you.

In Conclusion

To wrap up, remember that to reach Greatest Generation donors:

  • Direct mail and phone calls work.
  • Print materials are preferred over electronic ones.
  • Messages about frugality and resourcefulness are important.
  • Ask for in-kind donations, not only money.
  • Self-sustenance is appealing.
  • Physical accessibility is fundamental.
  • Periodic financial updates are welcomed.

To discuss how this article relates to your nonprofit, I invite you to participate in a free, 30-minute discovery session with me. 


During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action. When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you.

I look forward to our conversation!  

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