The Boomer effect: fundamental change or fizzle?

publication date: Jan 19, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
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What will Boomers do with all that money? Marketers, trend analysts and charity leaders have wrestled with that question ever since the "Great Wealth Transfer" idea flagged the imminent, untold inherited wealth about to cascade into Boomer pockets.

Many charities bought into the predictions. But data noted in the latest issue of Perspectives on Canadian Philanthropy from The Offord Group paints the Great Wealth Transfer as an underachiever so far. In the US, for example, annual charitable bequests must soar to six times the average current figure for the charitable windfall to meet its original forecast.

Assuming that Boomers really are going to retire and inherit at least some of that predicted windfall, what will it take to make them share their time, skills and money? Offord's landmark analysis focuses on that question.

The Boomer transitional leader

Queen's University business strategy researcher Douglas Reid suggests that, based on observed behavioural trends, the Canadian Boomer cohort offers "some 50,000 new faces who could remake the sector." To do that, though, they'll have to learn how to operate in the "relatively resource-strained nonprofit or charity environment."

If charities want to attract these mid-career leaders, Reid says they need to figure out two things: how mid-career adults learn, un-learn and adapt to new realities, and how to deliver the transitional learning that will make these new recruits successful.

Plugged in and personal

Offord staff Robin Fowler and Alison Holt shatter the myth of Boomers as techno-Luddites "helplessly toppling off ladders during satellite installation." Instead, they portray a techno-competent multi-tasker using mobile devices more complex than the computer of 25 years ago.

Despite Boomers' wholesale (82%) adoption of the Internet and everything it offers (even online gaming), Fowler and Holt warn that they still expect personalized messages and respond best to stories. Savvy charities will woo them with online reports rich with video and images.

Boomers as volunteers

Altruvest CEO Robert Harris picks up the volunteer theme with a reminder that the nine million Boomers in Canada offer a huge potential volunteer pool. He urges charities to organize their volunteer roles around passion, people, pragmatism and prestige, four concepts he says are closely linked to Boomer attitudes and values.

Hooking and holding Boomer support

Environics founding president Michael Adams offers a perspective best described as cautiously optimistic. Unlike their parents, Boomers aren't interested in what he calls "cold-turkey retirement." Rather, they anticipate a mix of some paid work, some volunteering, and education both formal and informal. That means they won't be as available as their parents.

Nor are they as motivated by religious conviction, with its accompanying values of duty, guilt and noblesse oblige. Adams notes that Boomers have substituted a need for meaning and a continuing sense of personal efficacy for those traditional values. And continuing paid work will meet some of that need.

He expects that same value shift to guide Boomers' decisions on gifts and legacies: whether they're important and what they expect if they do decide to give. Relationship, rather than a faith-based drive to give back, will guide their giving.

Those Boomers who do take charitable giving seriously expect a high degree of involvement - a requirement they often achieve through private foundations or donor-designated funds, notes Offord operations manager Prabha Mattapally.

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