The challenges of aging donors

Older prospects can be attractive to nonprofit fundraisers for many reasons. As they near the end of life, those prospects might start thinking about leaving a mark. They could have seen loved ones who suffered in a variety of ways. They might not want to leave any money to their ungrateful progeny.

As appealing as older people might be, there can be serious concerns about their mental competence. Nobody wants to take advantage of people who have difficulties, but even people who are slipping can make rational decisions.

During the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ annual international conference, Jodie S. Miner of Swedish Medical Center (in Seattle) and Dr. Catherine Madison and David Madson of the California Pacific Medical Center said that it is possible to work with cognitively impaired donors but that there are ethics involved in going about it.

They emphasized working with families of elderly people and said that nonprofits should be aware of the following considerations:

  • The time right after a diagnosis is often a time of planning for a family;
  • It is always a good idea to involve family members or financial/legal advisors in gift discussions. It is a good idea to involve them, ideally before decline starts, and start building trust with them early;
  • It is particularly important to document discussions with donors who might be cognitively impaired;
  • Differing goals among family members and advisors, along with uncertainty about the future, can make working with cognitively impaired donors tricky; and,
  • The organization must be willing to walk away.