Karen Eber Davis
How to Create Younger Generation of Supporters
Have you ever had a moment of insight, like Joyce?
Glancing across the ballroom, Joyce watches as the last of the donors and volunteers take their seats for the annual meeting. Gathered together, Joyce’s heart goes out to them. They are the best. They are ones who make the sacrificial donations, faithfully trim the hedges, and welcome customers with finesse. As the chair of the board begins his scripted welcome, Katelyn, their newest employee, enters from the back. She holds extra agendas in her hands.
“I wonder,” Joyce muses to herself, “what Katelyn sees when she looks at this crowd?” When the answer comes to her, Joyce startles. “Grandparents. Even great grandparents!” she whispers. Everyone in the crowd, from dear Mrs. Todd, who is accompanied by her nurse, to the Bennetts, still hobbling to their seats, is a senior.
“Who,” Joyce worries, “will help this organization in ten years?” Many here had already promised planned gifts. While these were wonderful, Joyce knew the dollars by themselves weren’t going to replace what the people in this room bring: love, heart and soul. To flourish tomorrow, it needed to grow new support from younger people.
This article shares two strategies to develop multi-generational communities around nonprofit missions. Both raise money and support the growth of tomorrow’s supporters. Might one of these, or an adaptation of them, help you to create future supporters?
Up and Coming
Fellow consultant and collaborative partner Laura Mikuska worked with a group that sought volunteers for its capital campaign cabinet. The leaders gathered a collection of polite rejections from the well-known community leaders who were on everyone’s wish list. Then at a chamber meeting, Laura met two lawyers with a major local firm. They both planned to become partners in their respective firms someday. She invited them to coffee to learn more about the campaign. Not only did they respond with enthusiasm and agree to participate, they brought fresh energy to the effort. By hosting a breakfast meeting at their firm, the lawyers introduced new friends to the nonprofit and helped the group to obtain younger supporters.
Laura’s strategy was to move beyond the usual suspects. She sought up-and-coming community leaders. If you adapt or adopt this strategy, seek out individuals with similar goals. Build relationships with them to support your work today. While they will need more education about your organization and fundraising than active philanthropic leaders, you will be able to count on their support for dozens of years.
Play with Children
Another method of developing younger supporters originates with Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC), headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. SPARCC seeks to create and maintain an environment free of domestic and sexual abuse and violence. It holds a dress-up event for young children and their parents. The Pirates and Princess Ball attracts children and their parents, generally young professionals. Once a year, this early-evening event includes a silent auction, games, dinner, and dancing. The brilliance of the ball is its outreach to two generations of potential supporters, rather than just one.
While most nonprofits need another special event like they need a roof leak, this gala offers a unique family twist. Besides money, it identifies people with the potential to support the organization in twenty or more years. Be careful to not discard this method because you fail to add another special event. Play with children doesn’t have to include one. Instead of a gala, consider a day-off-from-school program for parents and children. You might include a highlights tour, mini-service project, and healthy snack. Or, recruit young supporters to use one of their skills. Clothes to kids recruits teenagers to sort donated clothing. Not only is this much needed labor, it's smart. Teens are experts on what clothes children will actually wear to school!
Work for a Good Tomorrow, Today
To use either of the up and coming or play with children methods, remember that the youthfulness of those you seek is only one of the criteria that makes strategies like these work. Potential supporters also need to have passion for your cause, fiscal means, and often other reasons to favor you. For example, Laura’s lawyer recruitment was based on her relationship with them, their interests, their desire to be leaders in their respective firms, and the fact that the nonprofit’s service areas overlapped the firm’s geographic market.
If you seek younger supporters, ponder these questions:
- Can you support and grow the philanthropic tradition and create new supporters by offering something for parents and children? Research has found that 70 percent of high-wealth families have traditions that teach family values about the importance of philanthropy to their offspring. What program or event might be refreshed? What opportunity might be added?
- Where do young leaders gather in your community? Many chambers offer leadership programs and events. When you meet leaders, what next steps will you take? It will probably be up to you to engage them.
- Once you meet new supporters, how will you educate them so they know why their help is needed and how to help?
After the annual meeting, Joyce gathers a small group to help her explore creating younger supporters. The taskforce develops a number of good ideas. While much work remains, they agree it is satisfying to face the challenge head on. As the meeting closes, Joyce reminds Katelyn that their current donors and volunteers were once unfamiliar with their nonprofit work.
Every day, good nonprofit organizations find ways to improve their funding streams. One way to have income tomorrow is to develop new supporters today. Even if these examples fail to fit your needs, you will want to take steps to strengthen your current and future funding stream so that you too can become and remain a profitable nonprofit.
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