Fundraising across generations

publication date: Aug 14, 2014
author/source: Sara Byrnell

This article originally appeared in the June, 2014 issue of Gift Planning in Canada. It is reprinted with permission.

As fundraisers we spend much of our time talking about how to engage different generations of donors. How should we speak to Boomers, versus Generation X? How do we present a Case for Support that will capture a Millennial's attention? But, what would happen if we thought for a moment about instilling our organization as a charity of choice to all of these generations at once? 

Raising money from multiple generations of one family simultaneously is possible. Despite the fact that families will inevitably develop varying interests over the years, there continues to be power in tradition and thus provides opportunity to engage several generations of one family in the work that you do.

Recently, the Richardson Foundation based out of Winnipeg, made a $5 million gift to revitalize the Queen's University Stadium to honour a commitment their family made to the institution more than 90 years ago. How do we replicate relationships and legacies like this? Demonstrating impact and building relationships based on trust are the keys to laying the ground work of inspiring family members across decades.

Short term may be short sighted

It's easy to accept a major gift and steward the people making the gift over the short term. But this is a prime opportunity to not only focus on the key donor making the contribution, but to connect with the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, and share with them the impact of their family’s philanthropy.

Investing your time in involving the next generation in the stewardship of a gift has its benefits. It allows the organization, the donors and the family to continue their engagement, and will hopefully bring multiple family members to a point where they will ask “What’s next?" and “How can we help?”

This strategy will allow the different generations to start to see the value of giving back, while keeping your organization top of mind for their philanthropic plans. As you continue to demonstrate your good work and build a trusting relationship over time, you will see a shift in the other family members’ perception of your mission as you change their frame of mind and let them see themselves as a part of your organization or cause.

By instilling your organization early in the minds and hearts of multiple generations, you become the default when people start to think about their own philanthropy later in life. They will ask themselves “Where did we have a meaningful experience? Where did we see our dollars make an impact?” If your organization can continue to provide relevant examples of impact and engagement opportunities over time, the answers to those questions will become automatic - and lo and behold, those family members become your next generation of supporters, volunteers and community champions.


A new generation, a new champion

As an organization, it's important to look at the impact a family can have over decades through various giving channels and to cultivate and steward each generation according to their needs. Even if they don't perhaps feel connected to the cause their great grandparents supported at first, creating opportunities to engage them and demonstrating impact can lead to a shift in attitude about their own philanthropy.  

Every person you have the opportunity to meet within a family can become your next champion. Being adaptable to include multiple layers of family members in activities with your organization and framing opportunities in a way that is meaningful to a particular generation, increases engagement and will provide a positive experience that can solidify their commitment to your mission and translate into contributions for years to come.

As we all know, relationships are the ultimate key to fundraising. Being able to connect donors to your cause and demonstrate long-term impact, will result in  the interest and following of future generations. You just need to lead them.

Sara Byrnell joined SickKids Foundation in 2006 and is an Associate Director of Major Gifts. She is focused on building strategic partnerships with individuals and foundations, helping them meet their philanthropic goals by providing major gifts and planned gifts to support the mission and vision of the hospital. Sara is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Georgian College Fundraising and Resource Development Program. Contact her,




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