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January 19, 2004

Workshop outlines fundraising challenge posed by demographic changes

By Louise Donahue

Talk of “boomers,” “busters,” “civics,” and a new species, “boomlets,” was everywhere on January 13 during a daylong workshop with fundraiser Judith Nichols for faculty and staff on how to increase individual donations to UCSC.

Photo of Judith Nichols

Judith Nichols said different generations vary widely in their communication preferences.

Nichols, who has worked with educational and nonprofit groups around the United States and the United Kingdom, drove home the point that demography is a subject fundraisers ignore at their peril.

“Around the mid-1990s, a lot of what we were doing in fundraising stopped working so well, but we continued doing it,” she said at the workshop, held at the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room and the Alumni Association Room at the University Center.

“We need to understand what’s driving the outer world and bring it into ours.”

UCSC initiatives to increase individual donations were outlined briefly by Vice Chancellor of University Relations Ron Suduiko. “Building an individual donor base drives us, and it, and alumni support, are growing,” he said. In the U.S. News and World Report rankings, UCSC compares favorably with its counterparts within the UC system as well as with other leading public research institutions.

Five online alumni newsletters, representing one department in each division, are being sent out this winter to help alumni keep in touch with UCSC, explained Lynn Zachreson, on-campus programs coordinator for the Alumni Office. There are online alumni newsletters for literature, chemistry, psychology, film and digital media, and computer science, with more planned.

While many nonprofit groups have long relied on the generation that came of age before or during World War II, new approaches are needed, Nichols said, as the older generation is gradually supplanted. Greater longevity is also creating major changes, as potential donors worry about outliving their assets. “When paradigms shift, there are both risks and opportunities. It’s time to make the changes now, before we find ourselves in crisis,” Nichols emphasized.

One crucial difference in the generations is in their style of communications. The World War II generation, called the “civics” for their involvement in community and country, prefers direct-mail appeals, but may not want face-to-face contact. Those in their 30s to mid-50s would like face-to-face contact, but can be successfully reached with approaches that mimic face-to-face contact, such as phone calls or videos. The youngest group, under age 35, is best reached through the Internet and college radio.

Different age groups also vary in what drives their giving. While older givers prefer an organization with a long track record, younger audiences want to know explicitly how their gift will benefit society. This has been a secondary message for universities, but it now has to be a primary message, Nichols said.

While exact dates vary, she said, baby boomers are considered to be those born between 1943 and 1960; “baby busters,” also called Generation X, were born between 1961 and 1981; and the “baby boomlet,” also sometimes called “generation next,” “generation Y,” or “generation net,” were born between 1982 and 1992.

The starkest example of targeting to a specific audience came as Nichols showed the gathering a short video about the work of the Salvation Army. Aimed at civic-minded entrepreneurs, the video included vivid comments from people served by Salvation Army programs for children and adults, and ended with heart-wrenching accounts from women in a Salvation Army battered women’s shelter. The campaign was extremely successful with its target audience, Nichols said, but when the video was shown to an older group of “civics”—an age group that has strongly supported the Salvation Army over the years—it drew a negative reaction, and some people even walked out.

No matter what the age of the donor, Nichols emphasized the importance of every donation, offering her own experience with the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, as an example. The response she received after making a $25 gift one year gradually led to more and larger donations, and now she has included UNICEF in her will.

Nichols touched on a number of other issues during the workshop, including:

Diversity: Those seeking to raise funds for universities will need to improve their understanding of cultural differences. Noting that African Americans are the most philanthropic ethnic group in the nation, Nichols said it is important that development staffs be diverse. “We have some work to do there,” she said.

Starting early: Nichols emphasized the importance of reaching donors earlier, in their 20s and 30s, to establish a relationship that can grow over time, reminding the audience that few people start giving to a new charity in their 90s.

Impact of longevity: While fundraisers have assumed in the past that people will give away money before they die, longer life expectancies mean people are now increasingly worried about outliving their assets. This may lead some fundraisers to incorporate an estate planning element in their approach to potential donors.

Faculty who have questions or want to know more about alumni fundraising and outreach are welcome to contact their divisional development officers or Paul Prokop, associate vice chancellor for development.

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