What Motivates Mature Donors? A Conversation With My 74-Year-Old Dad

In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

My favorite content reviewer is my father. Now 74, he was a long-time video producer (he was a LaserDisc pioneer), who now lists his hobbies as writing his memoir, managing his finances, supporting important-to-him nonprofits, playing with his granddaughter and exercising.

…basically the perfect sounding board for my planned giving marketing packages.

I recently brought him a stack of material—print and digital—and interviewed him as he consumed it. It’s a qualitative study of one, but I always get something out of our conversation.

Here are ten tidbits, straight from Dad:

1. “If the mail looks like solicitation—is it asking me for money?—it goes straight to the trash.”

2. “I can’t read this size of text.”

(Katie note: Here are some suggestions on designing for seniors.)

3. “This picture [eyeing a mailer from his alma matter] doesn’t look like the classrooms I remember. The outside of the building didn’t change; the inside is unrecognizable.”

4. “I scan. Make it easy.”

5. “I like this headline about besting Uncle Sam. Everybody wants to win at tax time.”

6. [Opens his email on his iPad.] “I like emails with buttons. They’re easy to navigate.”

(Katie note: Americans age 60+ are increasing their screen time.)

7. “Ah, tips on creating and recording passwords. I can’t remember any of mine.”

8. [All the pieces fall out of an envelope when he opens it upside down—a cover letter, the newsletter, the reply device and return envelope.] “Whoops. Did the order matter?”

9. “Once I celebrated my 70th birthday, all my mail became people asking for money.”

10. “This IRA thing [the qualified charitable distribution] is wonderful! Give this to your mother.”

(Katie note: Why the beginning of 2020 makes a great time to market QCDs.)

And a bonus reaction (my personal favorite):

[After a break, Dad can’t find his reading glasses and sets aside all his mail.] “I’ll read these tomorrow.”

These experiences are just my dad’s—a Midwesterner, married, in good financial standing—representing just a sliver of the conversation. I want to know: Do you run anything by your parents or older relatives/neighbors/friends to get a fresh take? What have you picked up?

3 thoughts on “What Motivates Mature Donors? A Conversation With My 74-Year-Old Dad

  1. Thanks for the insight, Katie. Just yesterday I spent time with a legacy donor in his 70s, and asked him to critique our most recent mail appeal. Did he open it? Did he read it? What did he think? His advice: “Yes – I skimmed through it – short articles are nice. Keep it simple – I like to look at the photos of real people and see their stories.” He also shared that when he receives too many appeals from an organization, they go into the trash, unopened.

    1. Thank you for the feedback—I love hearing directly from donors. Skimming content and being inundated by communications are trends we’re seeing throughout the fundraising space, particularly in email marketing. Your donor’s comment about personal stories and photos is critical, too. It’s the connections we make (more than stats that we read) that influence decisions. Thank you for sharing! -Katie Parker

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