On Boomers - their tribes, their values, their giving

publication date: Apr 29, 2011
author/source: Zak Bailey

The four main age cohorts, Elders/Civics, Boomers, Generations X and Generation Y, make it easy to examine broad generational characteristics. Digging deeper into the cohorts is where the insights lie. The Next Generation of Canadian Giving, by Michael Johnston et al, clearly shows that there are acquisition, solicitation/response, and donor relation channel preferences for each generation. A better understanding of the differences within the cohorts allows fundraisers to respond (or not) accordingly.

Zak Bailey photo

Michael Adams' new book Stayin' Alive (Viking Canada, 2010) holds a wealth of information and insight on Canada's Boomer generation. In it he defines four distinct "Tribes" of Boomers, their characteristics, and how they're dealing with social change, technology, health, religion, and retirement.

Tribal social values

At the core of Adams' work are social values (85 of them), which he uses to define the tribes. For Adams, the raison d'être of values is this: Experience shapes values, and values motivate behaviour. Fundraisers can easily see the behavioural part of giving - the transaction itself. Understanding the different Boomer tribes and how social values affect behaviour will help your fundraising now and in the future. Here's how.

Take your direct mail appeal to existing donors as the example. Some percentage of your donor base will be Boomers and only a small portion will donate to any one appeal. Each tribe will view the appeal from its set of common values and respond accordingly.

Anxious Communitarians

Comprising 12% or 1.1 million Canadian Boomers, this tribe is described by Adams as the "worriers of their generation." The majority are women (61%) and the apt cultural references are Edith Bunker from All in the Family and Ruth Fisher from Six Feet Under. In general, they are concerned, conciliatory, fearful, insecure and other-directed. They believe in God, gain security from and in relationships, have nostalgia for the simplicity of the past, and are cynical (especially about institutions). They're motivated by guilt, a sense of duty and conscience.

Their response to your appeal would go like this: "Well, they asked for a donation. The charity must really need the money. I guess I'll give." If your institution or cause has directly affected them or their family and you ask again, they're likely to give again. Responses to true emergency appeals are likely to be higher from this tribe.

Given their general fear of technology, they're prime candidates for a telemarketing appeal but not an e-blast. They probably respond well to DRTV (direct response television). They're also prime volunteers for a door-to-door canvas of their neighbourhood - they want to do good and see volunteering as a demonstration of their values.

Connected Enthusiasts

Faced with your appeal, members of the Connected Enthusiasts tribe are quite likely to open it and respond, especially if the story is emotive. If the appeal featured a donor questionnaire, they'd likely share their opinions and feedback with you either online or by returning the questionnaire. As the "early adopters" among the Boomer tribes, they're also likely to donate online.

Adams describes Connected Enthusiasts as the "live wires" of the Boomers. The majority are women (58%) and are "natural volunteers and natural leaders." They thrive on difference and exchange, are fun-loving, passionate, emotional, curious, experiential, religious, "energized by change and difference" and are, above all, social and sociable. They're also financially secure and well-educated.

These donors are likely to follow you on Twitter or join your Facebook page because they're already there from a technology perspective. Given their traits, they're a good target for an acquisition appeal or even an e-blast, and would love the opportunity to engage in a conversation on the phone about an organization they care about and support. 

Disengaged Darwinists

This tribe, the largest, comprises 48% of Boomers (4.4 million people) and skews predominantly male (58%). If Edith Bunker represented Anxious Communitarians, this group is Archie Bunker himself. Adams describes them as status quo oriented, firmly middle-class, mistrustful of change, disengaged, small-c conservative, "traditional in their values," spendthrift, disempowered and logical. They strive to do the right thing.

Since they view charities as greedy and filled with overpaid CEOs, their response to your appeal will probably be "Not another request for money!" If they respond, they'll do it on their own schedule and at a set amount - no upgrading here. They're likely to write or phone and ask about overhead and fundraising costs, and most likely to hang up on or ignore a telemarketing call.  Conversely, they might respond well to a knock at the door and would give out of a sense of guilt. Since they're disengaged, they're probably harder to acquire as donors, easier to convert, and likely to be loyal once the tradition sets in.

Autonomous Rebels

Adams characterizes this tribe as: outspoken, rebellious, questioning, comfortable with change and diversity, sceptical, rational, independent, impatient and practical. They also have the highest levels of education, income, and divorce of all the Boomers.

When faced with a direct mail request, members of this tribe will likely have a rational rather than an emotional response to your appeal. They'll read it because they are engaged in the world around them, but will throw it away knowing that you'll be asking for support again. They'll give when the case is logical and rational - probably with a larger than average donation.

If they have time, they'll research your organization online before giving, but only if it's easy and convenient to do so.  They're unlikely to open an email from you (and would be looking for the opt-out/privacy statement if they did), but will open your mail and respond from the comfort of their own home - giving by credit card to collect the AeroplanTM points.

Stayin' Alive provides an exceptional level of depth and insight about Boomers. It nicely augments the channel preferences and behavioural data in The Next Generation report and the broader data in the Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. Gaining greater insight into the Boomers can only make your fundraising more effective within this tremendously valuable donor group.

The author would like to thank David MacDonald at Environics Research for his valuable contributions to this article.

With over 20 years of fundraising, marketing, and communications experience, Zak Bailey is a proud CFRE and currently works with leadership donors at the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in Toronto.

Previously, Zak managed nationally-focused annual giving programs at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, The Alzheimer Society of Canada, and The Arthritis Society.

He's an active volunteer with AFP - Greater Toronto Chapter, and has taught fundraising and marketing at Ryerson University.  He's a sought-after presenter at many local, national and international fundraising conferences.

Contact Zak at 416-946-2842 or by email.

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