I’m writing this blog on an early-morning flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Today, I’m going to be a panelist at a joint CAGP-AFP luncheon and will be speaking to “How to Leverage the Boomer to Millennial Wealth Transfer”. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic for the past week or so – and I’d like to share those thoughts with you now.

For about the past decade, I’ve been gobsmacked at how much attention the charitable sector has been paying to Millennials. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Millennials. My daughter is one – and she’s one of my very favourite people on the planet!

Millennials as a cohort have so many advantages to offer the world. I have no doubt that my daughter’s cohort will shake up the world the same way mine did – with feminism, rock and roll and the peace movement. But, their impact on philanthropy is – to me at least – still a long way off.

Famous U.S. outlaw John Dillinger was once asked by a reporter why he robbed banks. His answer was simple, yet profound: ‘I rob banks because that’s where they keep the money.’ As fundraisers, we need to keep our eyes on the money – and not the latest demographic trends.

One of my fundraising mentors is Roger Craver, a U.S. direct marketer. Roger worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and then founded a consulting company that helped the Democratic Party elect Congressmen, Senators and Presidents for decades. I’ll never forget the time I first heard Roger utter the words ‘philanthropy starts at 50’. And with all the analytics, profiling and segmentation we’re capable of doing today, I think it’s important to keep Roger’s simple phrase in mind. Now, when you combine Craver’s wisdom with Dillinger’s, you’ve got a very sound basis for formulating your demographic strategy moving forward.

So, with generational cohorts in mind, let’s follow this line of thinking to find the money:

  1. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1966) are the prime source of philanthropic money today – and we will be for some time to come. Today’s youngest Boomer is 54 years old – so the entire generation has now crossed that ‘philanthropy starts at 50’ threshold. Boomers have 70% of the wealth and give about 50% of all charitable contributions. If you want to formulate an age-based demographic strategy for the next decade, this is still the best place to start!
  2. Next in line comes the generation that no one seems to want to talk about! Gen Xers (born 1967-1982) are quietly coming up on that 50th birthday milestone (in fact, the oldest Gen Xer is 53 years old today). According to the Non-Profit Centre at Lasalle University in Philadelphia, Gen Xers will assume giving leadership from Boomers in 2028. That’s less than a decade out. And, once Gen Xers assume this leadership position, they’re going to occupy it for a good fifteen years.
  3. Now, we get to the generation that everyone likes to talk SO much about. Millennials (born 1983-1998) are indeed making their mark on the world in many ways. But it’s important to keep in mind that the oldest Millennial won’t turn 50 for another 15 years – and the youngest members of that cohort won’t turn 50 for another 30 years. Now, that’s a long way off for any fundraiser, no matter how forward-looking you might be. Yes, Millennials will eventually assume philanthropic leadership and become the biggest giving cohort. But that isn’t going to happen until 2043!

So, my demographic advice to you is this:

  1. Take John Dillinger’s bank-robbing wisdom and Roger Craver’s philanthropy advice to heart. Stay focused on the money, and remember that philanthropy starts at 50.
  2. Start tailoring your offerings to Boomers. This will be your most important revenue source for the next decade.
  3. If you want to be forward-looking, focus on Gen Xers rather than Millennials as your next big source of revenue.
  4. If you really want to focus your strategy on Millennials, why not come back and do that in ten years or so.

Learning everything you can about Boomers and Gen Xers is a great investment of your time and effort. These are fascinating generations with some very pronounced differences. Understanding these differences will absolutely help you raise more money for the next twenty years or so. Enjoy the ride!