The Holy Trinity of Aging Well

April 23, 2019

Most of us who work as fundraisers have super-busy lives. We rush from family to job responsibility – and back – sometimes several times in a day. At work, we’re trying to do more with less – and to do it more quickly than we did last year.

Most fundraisers live in what Jane Fonda calls ‘Life’s 2nd Act’. During the stage of our lives – roughly between ages 30 and 60 – we work, we achieve and we acquire. And many of us also raise our children during these years. In short, we’re on the go all the time .  We’re kept busy by demands coming at us from seemingly everywhere.

The vast majority of the fundraisers I know are in the 2nd Act of their lives. We check our messages and emails just before bed, and again in the morning before our lips even make contact with our coffee cups.

For people during the 2nd Act of life, the scarce resource to is time! Just about everything feels rushed. We wish we had more time, for our kids, for our partners and for ourselves. During the 2nd Act of life, it’s awfully hard to find time to think, let alone pause and reflect.

Life’s 3rd Act

Most of us find that, after our 60th birthdays, we have more time and more breathing space. Our kids are raised and gone. We’ve reached our professional peak. We’re more or less set financially – and we don’t have much to prove anymore. In our 3rd Act, we can be more thoughtful, more reflective and more philosophical about life. Our focus is on ensuring that we’re becoming the complete, whole-hearted and authentic selves we want to be. We worry less about what we have and more about who we are. We strive less to achieve and more to appreciate. This is the time of life when we finally feel truly comfortable inside our own skin.

I should know. I’ve crossed that bridge – and I’m now a member of the 3rd Act demographic tribe! I can tell you that turning 60, becoming a grandfather and watching my dad go through a life-threatening illness have changed the way I see myself and the way I appreciate my life.

I’m telling you all this for one reason: While most fundraisers (like you) are in life’s 2nd Act, most of your donors are probably in their 3rd Act. If you want to communicate effectively with them, you need to be able to ‘speak their language’.

In my reading and research on life’s 3rd Act, I’ve come to the conclusion that older people who are truly satisfied with their lives share three attributes. These satisfied people are much more likely to share their good fortune through philanthropy I would suspect – and they are worth connecting within a deeply meaningful way.

creating messages

When I write copy to these people – whether the channel is traditional or new media – I try to speak explicitly to the three attributes that have led to their contentment:

1. PURPOSE:

As we age, we are happiest if we wake up in the morning with something meaningful to do. We need some sort of work or activity that matters – to us and to someone else – to propel us forward and keep us active and engaged. Clearly, any type of philanthropic activity – from giving to volunteering – provides a sense of purpose and worth to the older people who practice it.

2. BELONGING:

We humans are at the top of the food chain because we are the most socially organized of all the species. It is our ability to live and function in complex communities that has elevated us to the incredible place we inhabit today. If you look at the unhappy people you know or have heard of, they are often lonely, isolated and deeply disconnected – from family, from friends, from neighbours, from community. Yet, the happiest older people in your neighbourhood are still vitally connected to those same groups. Clearly, philanthropic activity of any kind goes hand in hand with a strong sense of belonging – to a group of people who share a cause, to the recipients of their generosity and to the others who give as they do.

3. LOVE:

John Lennon was right when he penned the song title “All You Need is Love”. Happy older people give and receive love abundantly. They appreciate and steward the love in their lives – and they certainly don’t take it for granted. I’m sure it’s easy for you to see how philanthropy and love go hand in hand. After all, the ‘phil’ in ‘philanthropy’ means ‘love’ in Greek!

So, when you’re creating messages for – or having conversations with – your donors and prospects, keep this Holy Trinity in mind. Try to speak explicitly about how supporting your organization’s mission and the cause you’re committed to fosters purpose, belonging and love in the donor’s life.

If you learn to do this well, I firmly believe that you will raise more money and become a better fundraiser. Not only that, your donors will also have a more joyful experience in their support of your organization. And, I think that’s a pretty sweet deal all around.

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Fraser Green

Fraser Green

Former political campaigner and current fundraising strategist with a knack for understanding how audiences will react to messages.