How to talk to different generations about bequests

August 20, 2018

Life was easier back then…

When my fellow Good Workers and I began our journey into marketing legacy giving to annual donors in 2003, we had a lot of things to figure out. But one thing was simple and clear. We had a pretty singular, unified audience – one made up almost exclusively of members of the Civic Generational Cohort.

Back in ‘the easy days’ our legacy giving prospect pool could be pretty easily identified by two key factors:

  • donors who preferred to give through the mail, and
  • Civic generation donors (born pre-1946). Back in 2003, these legacy prospects were aged 60 and over.

So, we wrote a book called Iceberg Philanthropy. It was all about how to effectively market bequests to direct mail donors who were members of the Civic cohort.

Today, people who make bequests to charities are still, for the most part, aged 60+. The new wrinkle is that the biggest generational group today is Baby Boomers. This cohort (born between 1946 and 1966) is now aged between 52 and 72.

Our ‘State of the Legacy Nation’ research shows clearly that the lion’s share of legacy gifts are made by people over 60 years of age. Today, the majority of Boomers have crossed that 60th birthday threshold. And in case you haven’t noticed, there are a LOT of Boomers out there!

And not only that, but while their Civic parents pretty much stick to sending cheques in the mail, Boomers give in all kinds of ways. This complicates things a bit.

So, now that you’ve got two legacy giving audiences instead of one, what are you supposed to do?

Here are some very practical tips to get you started reaching both of these audiences effectively in your legacy gift marketing program:

Start with their similarities.

Both groups have entered their ‘third act’ of life (see Jane Fonda’s Ted talk on the subject!). Their kids are raised and educations are paid for. They own their homes mortgage-free (this is where the gift money comes from!). They’re becoming more introspective and existential in their thinking. They want their lives to have meaning and purpose – and they want to feel that their lives have been worthwhile, to others as well as themselves. After age 60, we tend to think more with our autobiographical brains when we consider bequests – so creating a coherent story of one’s life becomes an essential ingredient in creating your persuasive messages.

Talk to Civics about responsibility and duty.

You must keep in mind that this generation came of age during the Great Depression of the 1930s, WW2 in the 1940s and the Cold War of the 1950s. This group places a high priority on safety and security – and comes from a ‘wartime effort’ notion of collective responsibility. This is the generation of Frank Sinatra and black and white movies starring Humphrey Bogart. They are savers – and they value material security over new experiences and adventure.

If I knew I was writing legacy copy for an entirely Civic audience, I would talk about the idea of conforming to society’s idea of the model citizen – and I would frame the bequest as an opportunity to ‘make the grade’ as a good person and citizen. I would use words like ‘responsibility, duty, obligation and respect’ as key parts of my messaging.

Talk to Boomers about identity and being special.

Boomers are a very different breed of cat from their Civic parents. This group came of age with the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan, the first moon landing, Woodstock, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Unlike their conformist parents, Boomers felt the need to break away from the established rules and do what feels right. Boomers – unlike their Civic parents – also grew up with a healthy distrust of authority. Boomers feel like they were born to make a difference – and as they age, they can still flex their ‘change the world’ muscles.

If I knew I was creating content for a Boomer audience, I would take a different approach. I would talk about how legacy giving can lift the individual donor above the crowd. How it can make her stand out as a truly special person. I would use words and phrases like ‘first, best, leader, set an example, and achievement’.

While this is just a very simple Intro 101 into the subject of Legacies, Civics and Boomers, I hope it’s a start in your building your fluency on this subject. It’s going to become VERY important to you and your legacy program in the years to come.

Good luck!

 

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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.