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    December 9, 2008

    Economic Crisis: Gen Y to the Rescue?

    Someone recently asked me in a comment on a different post what I thought about the current economic situation, how it was affecting fundraisers, and in particular, what Gen Y might have to do with all this.

    First the not so good part for those of us who still operate for the most part in the traditional DM fundraising environment. As I wrote about in a recent post, most in the industry are gloomy about DM prospects for the upcoming year. Many organizations are cutting back in acquisition, so prospecting is down across most fundraising verticals. For those still brave enough to prospect with some gusto, if everyone else is cutting back, you've got fewer names to rent or exchange, so if you're not already ripping your hair out or turning to modeling as your salvation, you'd better start.

    So the gut instinct is to focus on keeping the donors you already have. But they are likely also a donor someone else already has, and they are focusing on keeping their donors as well. So now it's a matter of who makes the stronger case for donors' increasingly limited discretionary dollars.

    So now let's turn to why I think that if your organization has not seriously considered pursuing Gen Y donors before, now is the time to act:

    • We have fewer financial obligations. Sure we might have college loans, and are trying to "start" our lives, savings, and maybe even buy a home (yes that is a joke), but many of us are, at least for now, taking care of ourselves, and at most, a significant other and four-legged friend. I don't have to decide between buying my kid a Christmas present or giving $15 to my favorite charity. I don't stay awake at night wondering what will happen to my kid's asthma medicine if I lose my job and then my whole family will be without health insurance. Sure my 401K has shrunk by over 20% like most people's, but I am years away from retirement and when my 401K "shrinks", let's just say hundreds of thousands of dollars aren't suddenly missing from my savings.
    • We have, and are willing to give, time. The Monday before Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and I signed up to make Thanksgiving meals that would go to area shelters. We also had to pay $13 each for the privilege. I had imagined lots of families signing up for this, but when we showed up, it looked like an entire dorm had descended on the food prep room. Young people galore, with a few "elders" sprinkled in here and there directing the food-preping masses. Why is this "giving of time" so important? Ask yourselves this question: is your organization considering reducing staff, or programs, or the number of people a program can reach due to potential budget shortages? How many of these potential reductions could be softened by volunteers who could be trained to do some of the work? In difficult economic times, time can be as valuable an asset as money.
    • Most of our income is tied to real wages. What I mean by this is that for the most part, Gen Yers spending money comes from what we earn-I would imagine 99% of us are not living off "dividend" or "savings"-based income, so our spending power has not shrunk as much as that of retired folk. Sure, prices for lots of things like food and basics have gone up, but those of us who still have jobs have not seen our wages shrink by 30%.
    • Most of us are not already on your file. We are the ultimate prospecting universe.

    While the life of Gen Yers I describe above may not seem "prosperous" let's consider for a second the circumstances our older generations are finding themselves in right now:

    • Let's start with DM's most favorite group: folks over 65 living off retirement, either savings, investments, or government-provided social security. As I mentioned above, for those living off their investments or any kind of income tied to the stock market, their nest eggs have shrunk dramatically.
    • Many of these older folk remember tougher times, like say, WWII, and they know how to save when they need to. They have more self control. (I know I'll get flack for this one). If you are not their very favorite charity and make a really good case for yourself, well...
    • Meanwhile, costs for everything, including the ever-increasing list of life-saving prescriptions that many seniors rely on continues to outpace cost of living increases provided by the government to those who depend on it for retirement.
    • Our parents, "the boomers" are increasingly feeling the squeeze. This "sandwich" generation is having to worry about their parents, who've seen retirement savings whittle away, and their kids, (i.e. moi), who are having a harder and harder time "striking out on their own" and on top of this, their home, which were going to be a large chunk of their retirement future, continue to drop in value. So there goes their early retirement. And who's got time when they are running between their elderly parents, their possibly teenage kids' activities, and work?


    John Lepp said...

    Well said Miriam - and you make the idea of targeting Gen Y a "no brainer". Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    scormeny said...

    Great points!

    I'd love to hear more of what you think about volunteering -- my experience is that it takes a lot of planning to get actual "work" value out of volunteers; the paid-staff time involved in wrangling volunteers and their work output definitely undermines the "free" in "free labor."

    That being said, I think that attracting young people as volunteers, particularly in substantive roles, is a great way to find future donors and to deepen their connections to the organization.

    Mark Buzan said...

    This is an excellent blog you have and an excellent posting. I consult a number of number non-profits ( and I would definitely agree that Gen Ys and even Gen Xers are a source overlooked by NGOs.


    Nick Tasler said...

    Very interesting take on this. I especially like your dollars and cents argument. Gen Y has much less income, but probably does have a lot more disposable income--at least what they pereceive as disposable.