In this series we have examined both “Time and Talent” as it relates to the “Time, Talent, and Treasure” paradigm in nonprofit donor management and cultivation. This final segment of “Treasure” is often the one that we, as nonprofits, are most interested and influenced by because it affects our pressing financial goals. It can often be to our detriment to focus too much on “Treasure” and, in so doing, approach our donor’s “treasure” in a transactional way, without respecting and acknowledging generational differences and preferences of how to cultivate the gift of “Treasure.”
When approaching our donors about giving their “treasure,” remember that in order to create lasting bonds and build solid, long-term relationships we must have conversations with our donors about their “time” and “talent,” which they may also be willing to give. Research has consistently shown that donors who give treasure combined with time or talent are much more engaged for longer periods of time. Through the combination of treasure, time and talent, it becomes easier to steward our donors through extended communication and demonstrations of their efforts and how it impacts the overall mission of our organizations.
What is Treasure?
“Treasure,” as it relates to the big three of “Time, Talent and Treasure,” often seems to be the easiest to define and measure by most common practices. What is treasure, if not the dollars that our donors donate to us and invest in our cause? Treasure is the easiest to track, as most of us have systems and processes in place to receive, acknowledge and report donations to our organizations and Boards. It is important to note that the very experience of giving treasure can make or break repeat donations, but that is for another article. As we take a closer look at “treasure,” the generational differences about how treasure is given are vast. By acknowledging these differences, we are better able to meet the needs and expectations of all of our donors which ultimately benefits our organizations in the broadest and best possible way.
Generation to Generation: The Boomers
When beginning to examine the generational differences in the giving of “treasure” it is easier to look first at the Baby Boomers. We have the most experience and data for this generation to date and their giving habits have influenced our sector greatly. However, the giving of this generation, and its long hold as our most generous treasure givers, has not prepared us for the shifts we are seeing in the giving habits of other generations.
Boomers often give their “treasure” first and their “time” and “talent” second. This post-war generation grew up knowing about the sacrifices their parents made for the war effort. Sharing their “treasure” with their neighbors and country was ingrained in them from an early age. Giving was an accepted expectation and giving on any level was appreciated. This is a generation that does not expect major fanfare for their giving efforts, but who do value the donor acknowledgement in a timely fashion
For many Boomers the motivation to give to organizations that matter to them is “because they always have,” often to the point they may not even know why they continue to donate years later. A perfect example of this is my own mother. My mother gives to an organization that was important to her mother and she has kept up the tradition. When I asked her why she still gives to them, even though her own giving priorities are different, her answer is “because it was important to my parents and I just always have.”
Boomers have been your most loyal annual fund donors by focusing their “treasure” on annual gifts. Many Boomers are past the prime of their peak giving years, but many continue to work and still have large amounts of “treasure” to give and share. Boomers appreciate being “cultivated” for their gifts in traditional ways with personal visits, on site tours and communication from staff. As Boomers are starting to age and to live on fixed incomes post retirement, now is the time to focus on planned giving and legacy contributions with this generation.
The Gen Xers
Gen Xers, on the other hand, are truly in the middle between Baby Boomers and Millennials and exhibit far more balance in their “treasure” giving. They usually have three to five causes that are important to them based on personal experiences or interests. They give to organizations not only their “treasure,” but also their “time” and “talent.” Gen Xers are a generation where all of their treasures and giving work together to make the biggest impact they can in areas of greatest interest and need. They saw the giving of their parents, but want to be less passive in the giving of their “treasure.” Therefore, Gen Xers combine their dollars with time and board service; staying longer term with their organizations than the Millennial generation. Your Gen X givers will want to see their impact of “Time, Talent, and Treasure” in different ways through annual reports, metric measurements against goals and objectives and how it all relates to a long term strategic plan.
The Elusive Millennial
Millennials, on the other hand, give completely differently than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. They first like to give their “time” and then, if they see an impact, their “treasure.” This is partly because Millennials are not currently in their highest earning years, but also because they value their “time” as a commodity and therefore part of their “treasure” to give. Through stewarding Millennials to give “time” and then a follow-up with a small gift solicitation, you have a better chance of slowly upping their giving over time with incremental moves illustrating their impact and value immediately, while simultaneously capturing their longer-term attention.
Another unique trait of Millennials is that they are very social in their giving; supporting causes of friends and expecting their friends to support them and their causes in a reciprocal way. Thus, Millennials are perfect for peer-to-peer giving campaigns. They usually have large social and business networks that they are comfortable tapping into and their competitive nature is a strong incentive. When soliciting “treasure” from a Millennial, more weight is given by them on who is making the ask of them at the beginning of cultivation and how it makes them feel versus the facts and figures of a campaign. Due to their lower disposable income at this time and their social giving tendencies, Millennials disperse their “treasure” to many organizations in smaller gifts.
A word of caution when working with Millennials; even though they are not currently in their highest earning years, they will be at some point. Millennials have a short attention span, but a long memory. They often devote themselves to organizations for several years and then switch causes. It is important to show them appreciation through acknowledgement, an opportunity to become more involved through junior board service or the achievement of higher levels of knowledge and responsibility in service to the organization.
In closing, as with “Time” and “Talent,” the giving of “Treasure” differs among the three current generations and each has their own unique nuances. By understanding and recognizing that solicitations and approach for each generation should be different, you allow your organization to cultivate and steward your donors by meeting them where they are. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have differing interpretations of the nonprofit paradigm of “Time, Talent, and Treasure.” We, as fundraising professionals for our organizations, must adapt to the expectations, current economic state, and personal interests of our multi-generational donor base in order to cultivate long-term, consistent donor relationships and financial growth for our organizations.