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Are you prepared for the donors in your future?

The following is excerpted from the May/June 2002 Advancing Philanthropy cover story.

PERHAPS IT'S THE TONE OF VOICE warning your child, 'As long as you live here, you'll do as I say.' Or the tight-lipped ultimatum to a next-door neighbor, 'If you don't turn down that loud music, I'll call the cops.' Whatever the turning point, one day you realize, aghast, that you sound just like your parents.

While we might take on a few of our parents' pet forms of grousing, psychologists and other observers tell us that we're not in fact likely to 'inherit' our parents' generation-specific ways of seeing the world. 'We pick up the phraseology of our parents, but we will not turn into them,' says management consultant and lecturer Marilyn Moats Kennedy.

That is to say, the donors of the future won't give the very same ways their parents did, or to the very same organizations. As Ashley Allison, director of community services for the Amarillo [TX] Area Foundation, tells the nonprofits she works with, 'Accept that what you are doing, even if it's working now, won't always work.' Nothing like a bracing splash of cold water to wake _us up! Let's start planning for that reality by assessing the status quo.

We're True to Our Cohort

In the United States, advances in healthcare and the moving bubble of the large baby boom generation add up to an elderly population that's on the rise. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of Americans age 65 to reach more than 80 million by 2050, or one out of every five Americans, up from 33 million (one out _of eight Americans) in 1994.

One-third of the Canadian population was born between 1947 and 1966, so the baby boomers represent an even larger bulge there than in the United States. Worldwide, the United Nations recently announced that 1 out of every 10 people is now 60 years or older. By 2050, that will be 1 out of every 5 people, and the 'oldest-old'--age 80 and older--will be the fastest-growing group among the elderly. The World Future Society tells us, 'Get ready for 1 billion elderly people (age 60 and older) by 2020. Three-fourths of them will be in developing countries."

In her book Pinpointing Affluence in the 21st Century, Judith Nichols, CFRE, observes that from the 1950s through the 1970s, the population was skewed to the young; from the 1980s through 2000, it was fairly evenly distributed. Looking beyond 2000, she says that 'the balance is again skewing, but this time to the old.'

'People in their 60s and 70s are healthier, have more energy, and are retiring earlier,' says Bruce Flessner, a principal with Bentz Whaley Flessner. 'They used to get a retirement check every month as part of their pension plan. Now, when they retire, they get a nest egg that they have accumulated, and they can decide what they want to do with it.'

And the amounts of money are mind-boggling. According to calculations by John Havens and Paul Schervish of the Boston College Social Welfare Research Institute (SWRI), more than $41 trillion will be transferred to heirs over the next 55 years, of which at least $6 trillion will go to charities as people die.

'We used very conservative calculations and assumed only a 2 percent growth rate,' explained Schervish. 'Even so, besides this $6 trillion that will come to charitable organizations at the end of life, we estimate another $13.4 trillion of inter vivos [in lifetime] giving.'

Hmmm. Older donors retiring earlier and transferring huge amounts of wealth during their lifetimes and after. That sounds like pretty good news. After all, older people represent a significant portion of the donor base of many nonprofits--and in 10 years, there will be even more old people. Fundraising as usual, just more of it to more seniors, right? Think again.

For the full story, subscribe to AP or call AFP at (800) 666-3863 to learn how to get your copy of Advancing Philanthropy today!

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