All About Boomers

Last week some comments that our very own Kn Moy made about baby boomers were featured over on The Agitator. He was responding to another Agitator post you can read here. We thought Kn’s words were so insightful that we decided to share them. Enjoy!


I find the Agitator Boomer conversation irresistible. So here goes. . .

Since your column concluded with a comment about numbers, I’ll start my response there.

Today, there are actually some 80 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. — not the 76 million you quoted. Some five million of us, born between 1946 and 1965, have already died, to be replaced by Boomer immigrants, thus, raising the number to 80 million. . . which makes us the largest demographic in U.S. history.

And the large and in-charge Boomers are giving and spending. They are giving and spending because they can. Boomers control most of the wealth in this nation and just over half of the disposable income. In 2010, the trailing edge of Boomers (1955-1965) was spending more online than any other demographic. Where were the older, leading edge Boomers in spending, I wondered? By 2011, that leading edge was spending the most money online, followed by the Boomer trailing edge, followed by everyone else.

So despite all the very real fiscal uncertainties that Boomers face today, Boomer consumers still spend more than any other demographic — on nonessential consumer products, on travel, on dining out, on “experiences,” etc. They spend more on just about everything.

And with the Boomers, there is a correlation between what they spend and what they give.

So, Boomers also give more to charities — despite all the financial uncertainties we face. The number I validate when I give my Boomer presentations around the country is “one-third.” When you actualize the 1998 dollars given by Mature donors and compare that to Boomer dollars given to charity in 2008, Boomers give a third more than the Matures, a collective designation for all demographic segments older than the Boomers.

That’s not insignificant. Boomers give a third more than their parents!

In 2010, 52 million Boomers gave financially to charity. That is, almost two-thirds of all Boomers gave financially in 2010. That represents 20 million more donors than the collective number of Mature donors who gave in 2010. That is the fishing pond I want to be fishing in. And that pond will be well stocked — as you mentioned — for the next two decades as Boomers progress through the demographic pipeline of life.

Additionally, 24 million Boomers gave time to charity in 2010. This is the highest volunteer rate of any U.S. generation, past or present. When surveyed nearly half of all Boomers say they will volunteer at some point.

And Boomer volunteers are more likely to donate to the organization at which they serve than most other generations. With some of my agency’s clients, I have been pitching widescale volunteer mobilization as a strategic funding strategy. A recent study by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund reports that 67% of Americans who volunteered in the past year say they “generally make their financial donations to the same organizations where they volunteer.” But, the top reason to cultivate Boomer volunteers as donors is this: Americans who volunteer their time and skills to nonprofit organizations also donate an average of 10 times more money to charity than people who don’t volunteer.

You’re correct about the hard data — acquisition and retention is falling today. “Where is the boom?” you ask. The boom is already here. I would bet a week’s pay that most nonprofit donor bases are made up today of a high percentage of Boomers. When we have done age overlays, we often find that Boomers comprise the majority. They have crept up on us.

The problem, I believe, is that acquisition and retention is falling because the approaches that successfully activated the Matures aren’t working as well with Boomers. (This is something we want to be testing more.)

The Boomers were the first generation raised in front of television sets. We know when we’re being “marketed” to, and we hate being marketed to. (I’m a marketer, and I hate being marketed to!) So as an industry, if we want to get Boomers to open their wallets more, we can’t keep doing — with the Boomers — what we’ve always done with the Matures, and expect the same results we used to get. It’s time to optimize our approaches with the Boomers.

If there is a bust, it’s our fault because the Boomers are highly motivated to give back right now. Their current behaviors in giving time and money demonstrate that. (BTW, they are also returning to our churches faster than any other generation — another indication that they are seeking meaning and significance more than at any other time in their journey.)

If acquisition and retention are falling, that’s our fault. Not the Boomers.