Generational vs. Lifestyle

A while back in a newsletter from the NonProfit Times, the lead article headline stated, “Mail versus Online: It’s Lifestyle, Not Generational.” At first glance, one can think that this applied to marketing. It’s a headline, and since it’s a NEWSletter, this is big news from recently completed research. As one reads the article, however, the slant is toward fundraising/development, and the results of donor gift solicitation. The article speaks to attributes of donors…which is great for determining what kind of donors an organization has; unfortunately, it leaves out information relative to whom the requests were sent.

Individuals are more apt to become supporting donors when they are “engaged” with the work of the organization. Giving to my Church, the American Cancer Society, the local food bank or the homeless shelter are all worthy causes, but the organizations that get the most support from our family are those in which we have a vested interest or that engage us beyond a yearly (or even monthly) direct mail request.

The article found that as contributors age, their contact preferences do not necessarily continue with them. In 1995, it was thought that by the year 2005, those core individuals that responded to a direct mail campaign would die out, and that online giving would have to ramp up to capture the new breed of philanthropic supporters. Those predictions were incorrect, at least according to this research. The research showed that most contributors still responded to a direct mail campaign.

Once again, it seemed that the research was incomplete. I wondered what the percentage of response was for an email versus direct mail request, and was this solicitation for an annual appeal gift, or for a supplemental gift?

A direct mail solicitation for an annual appeal gift is paramount; an online giving presence simply makes it easier for the donor to give. Considering my personal situation, it is “lifestyle” that wins out. I want to be engaged with the organizations I’m going to give money to, and therefore, will open a quality piece of mail from them. An email is too easy to delete for something this important. There are two other reasons I would use direct mail:

  1. Important information (such as a new contact person/representative of the organization, or a call to action to announce a new Web site (which must have an easy to remember and easy to input URL) so the donor can continue to be engaged.  This can be done via a postcard.
  2. A hand-written “Thank You” note.  Don’t thank a donor through an email or through a standard letter-sized envelope containing a form letter and possibly a request for another contribution.  While a formal gift acknowledgement is request of any gift over $250, you can certainly send the “tax purpose” letter, but don’t consider this as a replacement for the hand-written “Thank you” note.  Also, if you want to distinguish your school from every other organization, don’t simply write a couple of personalized lines on that required letter.  Sure, it’s nice, and it saves postage, paper and time, but it’s not distinctive.  A donor must be continually thanked – the more times, the better, and, the more different ways, even better!

As for prospective donors, remember that they must be informed, invited, involved and then engaged to get to fifth step where they’re willing to open their wallets and checkbooks.   Once a prospective donor becomes a donor, then it’s more stewardship-oriented to request an individual to make smaller gifts through the course of the year through an online contact, saving those printing and postage costs, and providing the ability to forward a link to another person (which would be akin to a sales referral).

But that’s all about “development.” What about “marketing?” Is marketing the same as development when it comes to generational vs. lifestyle? No – it’s generational. Attributes that are lifestyle-oriented change as constituents age. Individuals in 1995 may have been more oriented toward the use of the Internet out of curiosity because it was relatively new then, but over 20 years later, even though online banking and bill paying is commonplace, those people who wrote checks for contributions back then still write checks. Attributes that are generationally-oriented, such as marketing, remain consistent with the generation. For instance, 18- to 25-year-olds that listened to Led Zeppelin in 1975 were surprised to hear a song of the group as a soundtrack for a Cadillac sport sedan commercial in 2005. After all, Cadillac targets drivers that are around 45 to 55+ years of age, and – oh, well look at that – the 18- to 25-year-olds of 1975 were the 48- to 55-year-olds of 2005.

Are parents of young children today looking in the Yellow Pages for information about our schools? No. Ads in newspapers? No. Their main sources of information are their neighbors and the Internet – which includes your school’s responsive Web site, and those resources that rate your school with input from both satisfied and dissatisfied parents (read, “customers”).

What about information from the Church? That’s an interesting one. The Church is BOTH lifestyle AND generational…but don’t count on young parents to ask the Church about your Catholic or Christian school the year before they’re ready for school.  The church must engage them on a consistent basis from the time these young parents are married through the time of their children being born and baptized in the same parish or Christian congregation, and continue to be engaged constantly through the time that the children are of the age where they’re ready to enter school. You can’t market your school to fill your Pre-K or kindergarten classroom to parents of prospective students the year before they’re ready to enroll.  The “inform” needs to start long before the couple becomes a couple, and must be ongoing, since marketing is evangelization.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 6/23/08)