Trouble cultivating younger donors? This might be why

For many of us, caring about others just isn’t that important.

That’s one of the shocking findings of a new study conducted by a researcher at Harvard University.

First, let’s take a look at the subject of the study, high-school kids. And then, we’ll look at another part of the research, the kids’ parents — the younger donors that most nonprofits are trying to cultivate.

The study surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students. When asked what was most important to them — achieving at a high level, happiness, or caring for others – a full 80% said achieving at a high level or happiness, but only about 20% said caring for others.

Naturally it’s distressing that kids place so little importance on helping others, but what’s probably happening is that the children are taking their cues from parents.

While parents say it’s important to raise children who are caring, the kids themselves are reading the subtext. About 80% of children said that their parents are more concerned with achievement or happiness than with caring for others. The kids felt the same way about their teachers.

The children were also three times more likely to agree than disagree with this statement: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member.”

The message that adults are sending is loud and clear — put yourself and your success first.

These parents and teachers are the younger donors that fundraisers are trying to engage and motivate. And while they may say that caring for others is important, it seems, according to this study at least, that they’re more concerned with their own success in life than the welfare of others.

The takeaway for fundraising? The doing-good-is-its-own-reward theme doesn’t work for younger donors the way it did for previous generations, particularly the World War II generation. And because of that, if we want to reach younger donors, it’s more important than ever in our fundraising appeals and other donor communications to emphasize positive results, superior outcomes, and success stories. Charities have to show that they represent the success and achievement that younger donors are placing so much importance on and striving for themselves. It’s one way for nonprofits to be more relevant to younger donors, connect with them on their terms, and ultimately win their support.

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