Understanding donors means understanding older people

publication date: Aug 25, 2011
Do you work for a charity with a more-or-less typical donor base? If you do, people over 60 dominate your lists. That means you need to be very well-informed - and very respectful - about their attitudes, preferences, needs and abilities, says Jeff Brooks on Future Fundraising Now.

Accumulating years bring wisdom, he continues. That wisdom tells elders that giving is one of the best things they can do. As people age, their brain chemistry changes in ways that make them more empathetic, more focused on others.

If you're a younger fundraiser, you may not have that much contact with elders. They're retired and very busy, or living in age-segregated communities, or present in your workplace but not advertising their age. And you're naturally most involved with people at your own age and stage, especially if you've moved away from your family home.

Being elder-smart serves your organization, your career

"A lot of us just don't ‘get' these people," Brooks notes. "We just see their unstylishness, their tendency to do things slowly, the odd habits they bring from a past we don't share with them."

If that applies to you, then filling that knowledge and experience gap will be essential to your professional advancement. Go out of your way to meet and know older people in your family, your faith community, the places where you shop, volunteer and socialize.

Notice what annoys them, what makes them laugh, what breaks their hearts, Brooks advises. See what they don't understand, don't care about, what they will and won't talk about.

Watch their physical difficulties, hearing challenges and visual limitations, and think about what that means for your donor communications. How clearly do you and your colleagues enunciate, in person and on the phone? What colours, fonts and sizes do you choose for your letters and print pieces? How do you make your website easy to read and navigate?

Eye-opening resources

You might even want to take a course on the effects of aging. Or you might start reading media aimed at skewering the stereotypes of that age group, such as Zoomer, www.zoomermag.com. Yes, it's a website and print publication for the 45+ set, but it leans towards the over-60 demographic. Recent articles include a profile of the first woman to achieve the highest black belt in judo (at age 98), the future of age-friendly medicine, and the management of chronic pain.

Another resource, the website of the Canadian Association of Retired People, www.carp.ca, will keep you up-to-date on the concerns and experiences of older seniors. It also offers insight on the financial goals and pressures they face - great background for legacy planning.

Read Jeff's original article 

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