Do AARP’s Findings on Boomer Selfishness Hold True? And What Do They Mean for Your Nonprofit’s Marketing Messages?

As we are reading constantly these days, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are a different species altogether from the GI-era folks who proceed them. For the AARP, which is wholly focused on those 50+, understanding what makes Boomers tick is absolutely crucial.

To build its understanding, the AARP implemented a study entitled "A Changing Political Landscape: As One Generation Replaces Another." Limited by a small survey sample size of 603, the study nevertheless promotes sweeping, off-putting conclusions that have great impact for your nonprofit’s marketing strategy:

"Our findings indicate that Boomers have a greater belief in government entitlements and a lesser belief in personal obligations than the GI Generation. Boomers are more likely to feel the government owes them something and less likely to believe they owe the country certain obligations, such as military service and paying taxes."

This study was featured in an article in the September / October 2004 issue of AARP: The Magazine, which also included such unflattering conclusions such as:

"The potential downside of a maturing Baby Boom is clear: as Boomers replace GIs as the dominant electoral demographic, the politics of selfishness could triumph."

If Baby Boomers are indeed guided primarily by selfishness, that fact has huge consequences for your marketing messages. How, if at all, can your nonprofit touch prospective donors, volunteers, board members, program participants, etc. if selfishness is their primary motivation? I’d like to hear your ideas on this, because I frankly don’t have too many.

But I do beg to differ with the AARP’s conclusion. Other studies, and my own experience in working with over 100 nonprofit organizations, and participating in some way with many others, speak against this harsh critique.

Granted, Boomers have not been known for closely following the traditions of the GI Generation, but Boomers have been creative in developing their own ways of giving back. One example is the concept of "checkbook philanthropy," giving multiple small amounts to charitable organizations in a relatively unplanned manner. In Giving USA, a recent study of charitable giving, Boomers out-donated "Post-Boomers" as a percentage of the respective cohort population in every category. For organizations "that help needy Americans," 73% of Boomers contributed versus 57% of Post-Boomers. For organizations "that fight diseases," 69% of Boomers contributed versus 43% of Post-Boomers.

What this says to me is that organizations like AARP must clean house of Boomer stereotypes while adapting marketing and message strategies to appeal to this iconoclastic cohort. What this means for your nonprofit is that you must shape marketing messages to reach this group that is much less likely to respond to traditional motivators.  This generation chooses paths less traveled, and to ensure high-impact marketing, you have to make sure that your messages meet their interests, habits and needs. 

Read more on how Boomers are affecting the nonprofit world this topic in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s special report, Make Room for Boomers

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Nancy Schwartz on December 2, 2005 in Branding and Messages, Nonprofit Communications, Specific Audience Segments | 0 comments
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