Philanthropy And The Family

October 15, 2005       Kristin McCurry      

Boomers and Gen X are playing a larger role in the nonprofit community — driving massive amounts of giving through disaster related relief for hurricane and tsunami victims, raising awareness through advocacy efforts, such as the One Campaign, and unifying millions by wearing a simple yellow wristband.

Baby Boomers, who have loomed on the sector’s horizon for two decades, have now surpassed their elders in their annual giving, according to a landmark survey recently completed by the CMS/PrimeGroup DonorTrends Project. And, in return, these younger generations are asking for more in return from the organizations they support. And, they have different measures of success for these relationships than their elders, the WWII generation.

Boomers and leading edge Gen Xer’s are demanding intimacy from their charities of choice, a metric Kay Sprinkle Grace, a senior consultant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, calls Show Me You Know Me . Because the need for highly personalized service and treatment is greater, many organizations are maintaining state-of-the-science relational databases that provide one view of a constituent or family’s relationship with the organization — as volunteer, service recipient, event participant. At the same time, advances in production technology have provided communication processes and tools with high levels of customization, allowing communication with these households on a very personal level and provide specific, relevant information.

One of the most effective ways to illustrate that you know your supporters is to support them in the most important role they play — as parents. The most important fact to know about today’s donors is that their kids come first. Regardless of their generational label, their parenting role drives most of their purchasing, and thus, their donating behavior.

For instance, a 45-year-old boomer mom is apt to behave more similarly to a Gen X mom who has a toddler, than a 45-year-old mother who has a kid in college. Their current life circumstances as a family override their cohort life experiences.

These same parents believe they are being let down by society with regard to their children’s preparation for life. The common strategy being used by parents in America is to wait for social institutions to provide whatever their children need. According to a recent Barna Group study, “The popular notion that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ has become an accepted excuse for millions of parents to assign away the commitment for their child’s development.”

This is particularly true in the areas of moral character and financial management — two aspects with which the nonprofit sector can assist.

Family issues override almost all other influences in today’s society. They are the basis for the values of the emerging donor groups made up of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Y, who are now grandparents and parents. Successful charities reflect these values in their core messages, illustrating a shared interest in the donor’s children and validating that a gift to the organization is an investment in future generations.

These donor groups are looking to nonprofits to help them teach their children about being charitable, having empathy, sharing, the importance of volunteerism, and the power of their voice in changing the world. Charity is becoming, for many families, an alternative to the rampant consumerism created by the more than 3,000 marketing messages delivered to our children each day. And, children are ready for a fresh perspective. Kids aged eight to 17 have memories of September 11 and the tsunami. They understand the role nonprofits played in the aftermath of both seminal events. Nearly 40 percent of these children say they dream about helping other people in the future, according to the Roper Youth Report.

Nathan Dungan, wrote in his acclaimed book, Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How NOT To Be Your Child’s ATM , “In America, we give about 2 percent of our income to charitable organizations. But imagine if we gave away 3 percent or even 4 percent? What if we could move the needle — share and save more and spend less? It would be quite amazing. And we need to start with children.”

Fundraisers are ideally positioned to help families with this challenge by utilizing proven development tools and methods. Family Focus initiatives can maximize the value of a parent’s relationship with an organization when the child is young, while planting the seeds of a future relationship with tomorrow’s donors. Historically, child sponsorship organizations have capitalized on this theory. Many have included family sponsorships on their menu, encouraging American families to sponsor international families in need of help.

“Families are interested in using sponsorship programs to teach their children about philanthropy,” according to Connie Snapp DeBord, fundraising consultant in Virginia Beach, Va. “Through research at World Vision, we found that half of the sponsors were young families with children in the home. Of these, over two-thirds of the sponsors were using the program to teach their children about philanthropy. We then were able to target families through the family sponsorship program and it was one of the most successful product launches ever.”

Nonprofits in other arenas have an easy task of crafting their missions into family value offerings. Wildlife, humane and conservation groups, with their wild and wooly beneficiaries, can package their messages for children and parents through a mix of marketing efforts. Tools include kids’ publications like Ranger Rick , sponsorships or equivalencies like The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt-an-Acre program, and associated kid-friendly products such as those offered by many museum catalogs and onsite shops. National Wildlife Federation, for instance, has created an opportunity in this niche through targeted fundraising and communication tools focused on the family, including magazines and other publications, lesson plans, and a Kidzone page on their Web site.

Each of these approaches provides children with important information about the mission and teaches generosity. Like their parental counterparts, children who are participating in family philanthropy decisions are also influenced by brand, offer, and incentive. At the same time, parents perceive a tremendous amount of value in the tools providing them with teachable moments and methods for spending quality time with their children.

In addition to helping parents teach their children about charity, organizations can also provide tools that share information about the organization’s mission. Bounce back devices, such as greeting cards, holiday ornaments, book plates and others, are being effectively used by many charities to lend credibility to their appeals and provide donors with a tangible connection to the work they support. These pieces provide parents with a way to engage their children in the giving process by filling out the bounce back device and making a gift together. This process helps parents explain that the item will be returned to someone who is being helped by the organization, making the process much more real for children as well.

Appeals with a family philanthropy approach can also offer additional copies of the bounce back for use by the donating family as well, particularly when the device is a coloring book, map, or other kid-friendly item. Because the pieces are typically inexpensive, bounce backs can be overprinted to allow for fulfilling these requests from parents and can keep the organization front-of-mind long after the check has been mailed.

Most family philanthropy initiatives driven by direct marketing can be targeted at parents or to the family as a whole. Your organization’s Internet image is vital when launching this type of effort. Web sites are typically used for initial research by both parents and children and serve as the face of your organization for most because of the increased reliance on the internet by these younger audiences. Creating online communities for these families who have a driving need to belong to like-minded groups can provide an ongoing channel for communication and cultivation.

As with all messages delivered through direct channels, it is important to be aware of and comply with regulations and policies in place, particularly because children are involved. Before you begin, do your homework and read up on current guidelines including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Family philanthropy initiatives can provide organizations with a growing source of revenue and can be bolstered, like all donor relationships, with additional involvement with the organization. The Web is an ideal channel for creating virtual communities online, connecting supporting families with more mission-related information to deepen their commitment. Magazine or other publications for families or children provide another outlet for bonding them to the charity.

Charities with opportunities for full family volunteering, like missions and food banks, can truly engage parents and children by allowing them to spend time together helping those in need. Research conducted by the Daniel Yankelovitch Group (DYG) has deepened our understanding of what today’s — and tomorrow’s — volunteers are looking for in the organizations with which they become involved. They want to believe their volunteer time is spent meaningfully and is a reflection of their own personal values and ethics.

Further, the DYG Group reports volunteers increasingly say they want to be regarded as “who they are” not just for “what they have.” America ’s youth, in particular, represent a significant opportunity for those organizations who can successfully engage them as volunteers.

The Independent Sector’s report Engaging Youth in Lifelong Service , published November 2002, found that the practice of volunteering begins, many times, in early, formative years. In fact, two-thirds of adult volunteers surveyed began giving their time as children. In addition, young volunteers are more likely to contribute to charities when they get older, meaning organizations establishing relationships with youth and cultivating those relationships into adulthood stand to substantially benefit from the future generosity of these valuable constituents.

During the past few decades, America ’s charities have recruited millions of volunteers through fundraising special events. Many of these have successfully focused on families or children as either the sole or primary audience, including the March of Dimes’ Walk America , ALSAC/St. Jude’s Math-a-thon, and the Jump Rope for Heart, brought to thousands of school children each year by the American Heart Association.

Direct marketers can use this volunteer information as a spring board to continuing the relationship by recognizing the contribution of the families and engaging parents in an ongoing dialog about their favorite subjects — their children. This type of constituent relationship management (CRM) approach can be used to develop family philanthropy initiatives to more effectively fundraise to American families and to foster relationships with future donors. 

Kristin McCurry is a principle of MINDset direct, an Arlington, Va.-based firm dedicated to guiding nonprofit organizations in identifying, understanding and influencing the dynamics of donor group. She can be reach at kmccurry@mindsetdirect.com or through www.mindsetdirect.com

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