The Zoomers are reinventing everything, says advertising entrepreneur David Cravit of Zoomer Media. Are you? He posed that provocative statement to a plenary session of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners annual conference, held this April in Toronto.
It's an important question for fundraisers. Nearly fifteen million Canadians fall into the group that Cravit and his colleagues have dubbed "Zoomers" - Boomers and seniors. Their share of the adult population is 58% and growing.
The picture isn't always bright
At first glance, the world of the Zoomers seems enviable. With cheap post-secondary education, they surged into a growing economy and grew wealthier than any preceding generation through their own opportunities and inheritances from frugal parents. After a lifetime of good nutrition and medical care, their health is good and their life expectancy long. Now they're planning an active, expensive and self-indulgent retirement. The bequest you've painstakingly stewarded will shrink, and you'll wait longer for what's left.
That's one picture, and it's not a pretty prospect for your charity. How about the other extreme? One in five Boomers (the younger Zoomers) is caring for an infirm parent and purchasing expensive health care, drugs and services to supplement what governments provide. The number of adult children living in their Boomer parents' basements has reached a record high. If those grown children live on their own, they're deeply in debt for their education. They depend on their parents for help buying their first home and providing advantages for their own children.
Add to that the prevailing financial advice from 1976, when the prime interest rate was 18% and financial planners were advising then-young Boomers to borrow now and pay later in inflated dollars. "They're ridiculously underfunded," Cravits says of this group. "Freedom 55 now means ‘keep working until your kids are 55.'" For these younger Zoomers, the plate of obligations is full and the wallet is empty. Both their savings and their charitable gifts have dropped almost annually since 1990.
Need for engagement rises with age
Despite their financial worries, aging Zoomers want to leave a qualitative legacy, Cravits reports. They're concerned about the community and the environment, although that's focused on immediate rather than long-term concerns (cleaning up the neighbourhood rather than tackling global warming, for example). And they're ready to combine personal travel with volunteer work abroad, a phenomenon known as "voluntourism."
There's a common fear as well: being old and sick without money. That sense of scarcity means you have to engage Zoomers earlier and consistently with a strong brand and meaningful volunteer opportunities. Fortunately, they're easy to reach through the Internet. The number of Zoomers using various forms of social media is high and getting higher (see What Canadian donors really like about social media).
So leverage digital media, Cravits counsels. Find content that is relevant to your audience and could be "brought to you by" your organization. Create opportunities for engagement and feedback through quizzes, online discussion and chat groups. Customize your messaging - know whether you're dealing with Boomers, young seniors or the elderly, with the sandwich generation (taking care of parents and children) or those without such obligations. Fortunately, he points out, the Internet makes such customized messaging easier and less expensive than ever before.