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Multi-Generational Marketing For Non-profits

By George Williams, Communications Specialist - Planned Legacy Inc.

The greatest transfer of wealth in history will occur over the next 50 years. A portion of this wealth will find its way directly to non-profit organizations, but the remainder will be distributed among four of the five living generations.

PlannedLegacy's Tribute builds relationships through interactionOrganizations who understand the backgrounds, morals, values, characteristics, institutions, lifestyle preferences and priorities of each generation, and who can adjust their communication and marketing strategies accordingly, will reap the greatest benefit. Is your organization ready?

As non-profit organizations continue to play a larger role in the ongoing development and evolution of social values and civic pride, there is a growing need for increased communication with the communities they serve. The most effective method of ensuring the longevity of your organization is to build relationships with each generation represented in your community.

The concept is straightforward -- the greater the community awareness your organization creates through increased exposure and identification, the greater the chance of the community's continual participation in, and support of, your efforts. Additionally, comprehensive awareness and outreach programming will build the infrastructure necessary to ensure the long-term growth of your organization.

PlannedLegacy's Tribute allows you to interactively recognize donors, volunteers and corporate sponsors
  • Recognize donors and volunteers
  • Profile a corporate sponsor
  • Feature upcoming events
  • Applaud a successful campaign
  • Showcase your latest achievements
  • Learn more about TRIBUTE interactive donor recognition

Generationally-determined lifestyles, social values and shared experiences have as much, or more, influence on donors' decisions than do other common demographic factors such as income, gender and education. Only by knowing how the motivations of your potential donors are tied to the underlying values of their generation, will you be able to tailor your communications to their needs, interests, and desires. Each generation's members are linked through the shared life experiences of their formative years, such as pop culture, economic conditions, world events, natural disasters, heroes, villains and politics. These experiences create bonds that tie the generation together.

A multi-generational marketing approach that targets each generation can provide a sense of familiarity and personal appeal for your organization, laying the groundwork to build long-term donor relationships. Understanding and capitalizing on the different generational perspectives is the key to increasing your response rates and expanding your donor base.

Each generation also has preferred methods of personal communication and trusted sources they will use to learn about your organization. These methods and sources include but are not limited to face-to-face conversations, word-of-mouth recommendations, professional advisors, direct mail, telephone, e-mail, e-newsletters, multi-media presentations, interactive kiosks, tribute events, recognition events, peer gatherings and family gatherings.

There will always be individual exceptions, but the following generational descriptions and personal communication methods are generally unique to their specific generation. These descriptions and methods can be used as guidelines when formulating multi-generational marketing and communications strategies. They can also be used in designing and planning future initiatives to attract different or specific generations to your organization.


· The G.I. Generation (born 1901-24) 
· The Silent Generation (born 1925-42) 
· The Baby Boomers (born 1943-60)
· Generation "X" (born 1961-81)
· The Millennials (born 1982-2000)

THE G.I. GENERATION (born 1901-24)

As the beneficiaries of new playgrounds, scouting clubs and vitamins, the "good kids" of the G.I. generation came of age during a time when formal schooling was on the rise. As young adults, they endured the Great Depression while their armed forces conquered foreign enemies. Their midlife period was subsidized by the G.I. Bill.

The G.I. Generation built glistening new suburbs, invented miracle medicines and launched rockets. They experienced the concepts of the Great Society and Model Cities, but were worn down by Vietnam, Watergate, deficits, and lack of vision. Their lives began with high expectations for prosperity and idyllic living which were later shattered by the coming of World War I.

Following a postwar depression in 1920-21, the economy bounced back with a vengeance, resulting in the fact that the 1920s were the last decade in which the federal budget ran a surplus every year. Those born from 1912-21 came of age during the Great Depression and experienced economic strife, elevated unemployment rates and having to take menial jobs to survive. Financial security rules their thinking. The transfer of wealth from the G.I. Generation has already taken place in many respects.

Key Communication Methods

Face-to-Face Conversation, Children, Professional Advisors, Formal Social Events, Recognition and Tribute Events


The children of war and the Great Depression grew up in an era where conformity seemed to be the ticket to success. Early in their lives, they learned that "children are to be seen and not heard." The work ethic of this generation is built on commitment and responsibility and as a group they are not likely to break the rules or disrespect authority. They grew up in tough times when simple things were rationed, when saving for a rainy day was considered prudent, and when morals and ethics defined the character of an individual. They also lived through severe economic upheaval and frightening dangers.

The Silent Generation experienced cultural diversity, prolific litigation, fragmenting families, and institutional complexity. They remember the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam and the radical 70s. They appreciate discipline, hard work, and self-denial and overall they are social and financial conservatives.

Slow to embrace anything new, the Silent Generation distrusts change and would prefer the status quo. They saved their money and consider retirement and leisure time suitable rewards for sacrifices made earlier in their lives. They appreciate organizations and causes that satisfy their basic values. Their attitudes toward life and work were formed during an era in which they also became united against common enemies. They witnessed America's emergence as a superpower.

The Silent Generation also experienced a time of remarkable economic growth and social tranquility, a time of family togetherness. They participated in the rise of the middle class, sought a sense of security and stability, and expected prosperous times to continue indefinitely. Post-war grandparents are healthy, active, educated and endowed with sizeable nest eggs.

Spending by grandparents on their grandchildren is on the rise and the grandchildren of Generations "X" and the "Millennials" stand to inherit a substantial portion of wealth. Now entering elderhood with unprecedented affluence and a reputation for indecision, a major worry to them is whether they will outlive their savings.

Communicating with the Silent Generation

Tempered by war and tough times, a command and control approach works well with this generation. Their core values are what we think of today as traditional values -- discipline, self-denial, hard work, obedience to authority, conformity, commitment, responsibility, celebration of victory, financial and social conservatism. Distinction and honor are key marketing factors.

The Silent Generation tends to be cautious and somewhat conservative with their money as a result of their shared experiences. They resist being stereotyped as "Seniors." A better approach is to promote convenience and accessibility along with a "you earned it" attitude. They prefer activities and entertainment that are easily digestible, presented in a non-confrontational and non-controversial manner. They interpret simplicity as accessibility, which implies ease of use, service and support, as the key features that will sell them on new technologies and products.

Don't expect members of this generation to share their inner thoughts. They believe in paying their dues and become irritated when they perceive others are wasting their time. They often feel that their career identifies who they are. They respond to trust and believe a leader's word is his/her bond. They prefer formal communication, both written and oral, and value formal dress, organizational structures, authority and institutional leadership. Sacrifice for the common good is widely accepted and they are more team-oriented and patriotic than other generations.

Trust can be built with this group using inclusive language such as "we" and "us". Motivational messages should feature respect, such as: "Your experience is respected here" or "Your perseverance is valued here."

The1940s were an intensely romantic period and as such romance such as candlelight dinners, handholding and soft music strikes a chord with this group. Those who came of age during the Great Depression and after World War II are influenced by communications that value hard work, authority, conformity, self-sacrifice and a celebration of victory.

Smart marketers treat this age group as having a badge of distinction and honor, and do not play to the "age infirmities" that come with elderhood. Respecting this generation because they overcame daunting odds to achieve their successes gives this group "permission" to spend their money. Face-to-face or written communication using formal language is received best.

The Silent Generation wants their information presented to them in summary form and feel as a group no compelling need to be part of the information age, however, members of this generation who are "cybercitizens" embrace computer technology and the Internet and seek out novel experiences and opportunities for personal creativity.

Younger members of the Silent Generation form a portion of the fastest growing group of Internet users.

Key Communication Methods

Face-to-Face Conversation, Formal Social Events, Recognition and Tribute Events, Professional Advisors, Direct mail, Telephone, Internet

BABY BOOMERS (1943-60)

The "Boomers" are the proud creation of postwar optimism. This generation represents the children of World War II veterans. They did not go through economically hard times as their parents did. Their parents wanted them to have the best and as a result, the "Me" generation arrived. They grew up as indulged youth during an era of community-spirited progress. As young adults they turned against the secular blueprints of their parents, demanded inner-vision over outer-vision and valued self-perfection over teamwork.

Boomers lived through an economic boom and tremendous growth, which was tempered by a series of tragic events that included civil rights abuses, assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, the Apollo 13 disaster, an increase in international terrorism, shootings of major world leaders, the Iran hostage situation, the Falklands war etc. They witnessed technological feats of wonder, followed by breakdowns on a mammoth scale that produced a sense of failure and despair on the system. This led them to rebel against conformity and to carve a perfectionist lifestyle based on personal values and spiritual growth. Challenging institutions has been a way of life for this group. They appointed themselves arbiter of the nation's values and crowded conspicuously into culture-careers such as teaching, religion, journalism, marketing and the arts.

Throughout the past decade, Boomers have seen their ingrained sense of entitlement ripped apart by unmet expectations. High-paying jobs, large houses and multiple cars evaporated with the employment, careers and the lifestyles that were so severely impacted by massive layoffs in the late 80s and early 90s. Rocked by years of reorganizing, reengineering and relentless change, they now long to stabilize their careers.

This generation is the most populous and influential of all. They have enjoyed unprecedented opportunities in education and in employment. They are the "feel good" generation, who take the good things in life for granted. They share an expectation of prosperity and affluence. They are the truly the "Me" generation and they feel entitled to a "good life." To them, autonomy is key. They want to do it by themselves, and they want to be individual.

Communicating With Boomers

Boomers want to share their perceptions of "good" with others. They believe they have a right "to do their own thing," and seek purpose and fulfillment in their lives. They like to view themselves as nonconformists and marketing approaches to this group should cater to their need to rebel and forge their own path.

The value system of the "Me" generation is built on the sense of entitlement created by their presumption of economic growth. They are attracted by the efficiency of new products and technologies that will make their lives easier. They see the Internet as a separate technology to be incorporated into their work or personal lives and may feel they need to be plugged into the information society. They want their information presented in terms of categories and options and they want the data "before" they buy. However, organizations must walk a fine line between providing enough information to inform them and overloading them with too much data. Boomers desire to simplify.

Boomers are externally motivated, appearances and possessions count. They like quick fixes. Perfect programs for this group would be those requiring little change in habits and that would also produce improvement instantly.

This generation is committed to climbing the ladder of success and public recognition can be an important factor in that success. Boomers also want personal gratification. Motivational messages such as: "You're important to our success," "Your contribution is unique and important to us," and "We need you," will work best. They also embrace a team-based approach to business and they are eager to get rid of the command and control style of their generational predecessors. They don't appreciate rules for the sake of having rules and they will challenge the system. While they don't like problems, if you give them a cause they will fight for it.

Body language is important when communicating with Boomers and communication should be open and direct yet not controlling. They expect their questions to be answered thoroughly and may press for details. Options that demonstrate flexibility in your organization work well and both face-to-face and electronic communication can be used to reach out to this generation.

Healthcare and family are important to Boomers and organizations can reap major rewards by tying their programs to health and wellness and family values. Boomers also want to be on top and in charge of their decisions. Self-directed funds have become a popular option. They tend to seek the advice of someone who already has the knowledge they need, or someone who has participated in the program they are considering. Word-of-mouth communications from trusted advisors and friends can sell this generation on a program, thus, social gatherings and professional seminars can be used to create effective word-of-mouth advertising. Older Boomers form a portion of the largest growing group of Internet users.

Key Communication Methods:

Social and Recognition Events, Professional Advisors, Direct Mail, Face-to-Face Conversation, Internet, E-Mail

GENERATION "X" (1961-81)

The "Xers" could be dubbed the "Why Me?" generation. They were born in the wake of the dominant Baby Boomers and have been pounded by tumultuous political and economic conditions. They are the shell-shocked products of changes that are ripping apart the fibers of society, the family and the workplace. Often denounced as "Slackers" by the popular media, they are actually a savvy generation, enthusiastically ready, willing and able to take on new challenges.

Characterized by an economic and psychological "survivor" mentality, these "latchkey" children grew up quickly, experiencing rising divorce rates, violence and low expectations. They witnessed hostage crises, nuclear disasters and the explosion of Challenger. They saw the Berlin Wall crumble and were directly affected as political, corporate and social structures imploded worldwide. They are disillusioned with almost everything and feel they are reaping the sins of their forefathers.

Xers watched their parents suffer devastating job losses and became wary and uncertain about their own future. They entered the job market in the wake of the Boomers, and were hit hard by "downsizing" as the economy plunged into recession. It's only natural that they embrace risk and tend to be both skeptical toward authority and cautious in their commitments. They work longer, and may very well earn less. Their self-reliance has led them, in unprecedented numbers, to embrace "free agency" over company loyalty. They start about 70% of the new businesses in the U.S.

More Xers were raised in single-parent/working parents homes than any other generation. Thus, they took greater responsibility for raising themselves, and tend to be more self-confident, less traditional, and want more flexibility than previous or subsequent generations.

As young adults, they maneuvered through a sexual battlefield that included AIDS. As a result they date and marry cautiously. Their splintery culture, with music ranging from grunge to hip-hop, has a hardened edge. Politically, they lean toward pragmatism and non-affiliation and they would rather volunteer than vote.

The Xers consider hard work as a necessity and they are careful in planning for the future. Unlike their predecessors, they will not rely on institutions for their long-term security. They see new technology rapidly changing their world, and to them, nothing is permanent, nothing seems absolute. Ambitious and independent, they're now striving to balance the competing demands of work, family and personal life.

Communicating with Xers

Xers value access to information and love plenty of it. They need to be asked for their feedback and they enjoy having information shared with them on a regular basis. They like to be "kept in the loop." Organizations should share information of interest to Xers immediately and often, as this generation is still somewhat unsure of themselves. They need to be reassured that the choices they are making are fundamentally sound and practical.

Xers are looking to empower themselves through information and they like to participate in a worthy cause. They are prime candidates as volunteers on entrepreneurial projects. They like excitement and being involved and they are the ultimate multi-task masters. They are used to a lot of stimuli and require a challenging environment, individual growth and development, and projects that stimulate them.

Initiatives offering a non-traditional experience or an opportunity for growth and improvement, and which can provide flexibility without long-term commitment, will appeal to them if presented honestly and straightforwardly. They are however, "free agents," and not "team players", and they may be attracted more to leadership roles. They do not like to feel as if they are being controlled and they genuinely value opportunities to learn, grow, and improve themselves.

Xers value practicality, and will be attracted most by initiatives that will make things more useful and functional. They are flexible and hard working but they would rather find quicker methods of doing things so that they have can have more time for fun. They will use technology as a shortcut to get things done. E-mail and the Internet should be the primary communication tool for this generation as Xers see the Internet as completely integrated into their day-to-day being.

In face-to-face communication short sound bites will keep their attention best. They prefer an informal communication style and organizations trying to reach this generation must learn to speak their language. Facts must be presented in straightforward fashion.

Xers are skeptical of modern advertising and overly slick marketing pitches will not work with them. They are demanding of candor and honesty. Approaches that produce the best results will be frank and involve a little fun at the same time. They need to be spoken to in a way that says, "You're different. We respect that." This type of communication is very effective because it drops all pretensions and talks directly to them in a non-threatening way.

Xers are reactive, yet introverted. They appreciate "cocooning" and "getting away", yet they are quite social with their own generational group. They think communally and often make decisions together, thus, group events and word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers will work. They think highly of independence and are motivated by statements such as: "There are not a lot of rules here," or "This is not a formal establishment," or "Do it your way."

Key Communication Methods

E-Mail, Internet, Multi-Media, Word-of-Mouth, Social Events, Peer Gatherings

PlannedLegacy's Tribute allows you to interactively recognize donors, volunteers and corporate sponsors
  • Recognize donors and volunteers
  • Profile a corporate sponsor
  • Feature upcoming events
  • Applaud a successful campaign
  • Showcase your latest achievements
  • Learn more about TRIBUTE interactive donor recognition


The "Millennials" have developed an amazing optimism and a conviction that the future will indeed be better for all. They are well grounded and wise for their age and they feel that preceding generations have made huge mistakes. They recognize problems in our world, and they want to correct perceived wrongs in society.

The attitudes of this generation are primarily the result of a general backlash against hands-off parenting and a resurgence of virtue and values. With regard to social and family beliefs, the Millennials most closely resemble the generation of 1900-1920. They are civic-minded.

Growing up as abortion and divorce rates ebbed and child safety became a hot topic, Millennials have been exposed to a shift in Hollywood, from films of moral destruction to values-based big screen adventures. Cable TV and the Internet have also tried to create child-safe areas during their generation. Adults are more positive towards children and school test scores are better than average internationally.

The Millennials' greatest advantage is that of being born into a technological society. Change is both normal and visual to them. They watched the Gulf War on television. They are optimistic about their job future and they consider education critical. They do not however, believe that educational institutions are doing an adequate job. They do respect their teachers though, and most are planning for lifelong learning experiences.

Coddled and confident, the Millennials have not let the Columbine shootings, the Oklahoma City bombings or September 11, dim their sense of optimism. Such tragedies have only steeled their resolve to cure the world of what ails it.

Millennials know no limits. They define the workplace environment as they go along and feel entitled to everything. They are goal oriented and highly motivated toward their perceptions of success. They are generally pleased with themselves and are already planning for marriage and a family. They accept divorce as an acceptable solution for an unhappy marriage but they want long-term relationships. Most plan to marry in their mid 20s and are looking forward to having children.

Many Millennials feel that positive race relations are hampered by government intervention and the biases of certain minority groups. They feel these groups actually prevent races from developing mutual understanding and respect. Millennials expect to change this. Most are color-blind when they relate to other people and they accept each other as individuals little different from themselves.

Millennials are evenly dispersed across the political spectrum and are not confidently bound to any political party. In general they are pessimistic about the performance of government leaders, lawmakers, and the media.

The advent of the Internet was a defining event for the Millennials, and they already know that they will be the "engine" of growth over the next two decades. They are technologically savvy with a positive, "can do" attitude and they are already searching for solutions. They plan to find them.

Communicating with Millennials

Coming of age during a shift towards virtue and values, Millennials admire their parents but trust their grandparents even more. Family events and gatherings appeal to them and they are team players. They are attracted to organizations whose missions speak to a purpose greater than the bottom line. They are idealistic, social-cause oriented and they represent an immense untapped market. Organizations who can establish trusted connections with this group will reap tremendous benefits in the future.

The Millennials are growing up in a technological revolution that includes high-speed video games, speed dial, ATMs and the Internet. They want systematic feedback -- as it happens. They value positive reinforcement at accelerated rates compared to older generations and want more input into all things in which they participate. Highly creative, well educated and technologically advanced, the Internet is their playground, and that playground has no boundaries. They crave challenge. If there is a faster way to do it, the Millennials are the generation that can find it.

The most ethnically diverse generation yet, Millennials are exposed daily to diverse people and cultures not only in their own community, but through the media. They are already used to making and spending money and technology is valued not only as a tool for multi-tasking, but for communications. E-Mail and voicemail will work best as the primary tools when communicating with this generation but visual communication will motivate them.

Language that paints visual pictures and action verbs that challenge will appeal to Millennials. Language that talks down to them will make them resent you. Show respect in your language and you will receive it back. They will appreciate you more if you constantly seek their feedback and reassure them that you don't take yourself too seriously. They like to be encouraged to break the rules and explore new paths or options.

The Millennials share many of the values and interests of their parents and they have a very optimistic outlook on life. Being team players, motivational messages that will be most successful with Millennials will be along the lines of: "You'll be working with other bright, creative people," or "You and your team can make this initiative a success."

One third of all Millennials are from a minority group and greater diversity in advertisements will be attractive to this generation. Popular clothing chains such as The Gap and Ralph Lauren have already benefited by embracing racial and ethnic diversity in their advertising.

Key Communication Methods

E-Mail, Voice-Mail, Internet, Multi-Media, Grandparents, Parents

For more information

For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.

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