• November 24, 2014

Seeking Support, Some Charities Zero In on a Rising Generation of Donors

Groups Take Innovative Steps to Attract Young Donors 1

Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital, No. 329 on The Chronicle’s list, raised $300,000 with a dance marathon aimed at young adults.

Whose financial portfolios did well in 2008?

It’s a tough question to answer, of course, but at least young people have decades to earn back money they lost in the stock market’s skid. That’s part of what has driven the Jewish Communal Fund (No. 35) and other charities to step up their efforts to raise money from donors in their 20s and 30s.

“We knew we were going to approach young people because they hadn’t felt the brunt of the recession,” says Ellen Israelson, vice president of marketing and donor relations for the donor-advised fund, which received $381-million last year compared with $143-million in 2009. “It’s not like two decades of their savings had been eviscerated by the recession.”

The Jewish Communal Fund took several steps to attract younger donors. It lowered from $5,000 to $1,800 the minimum amount that people under 30 must give to establish a donor-advised fund. It also dropped the minimum grant for those funds, to $36 from $100. As a result, roughly 9 percent more young donors set up funds with the New York nonprofit in 2010 as in the year before.

This year, the charity started a center focused on “next generation” philanthropy. Two new employees are helping to run the center, which provides networking opportunities, seminars, and other programs for teenagers and young professionals.

Another group that expanded its efforts to recruit younger donors is the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (No. 255). Last year the charity started a “president’s circle,” an invitation-only group for wealthy young donors, most of whom are in their 30s. That has helped raise more big gifts from the younger set: From 2009 to 2011, the number of people under age 45 who give at least $25,000 grew by 16 percent, and the share giving at least $50,000 increased by 40 percent.

Targeting Alumni

Universities are making a push to solicit money from their younger alumni. As part of its $1-billion campaign, Syracuse University (No. 267) is reaching out to “Generation Orange,” its name for people who have graduated within the last 10 years. During its months-long campaigns in various regions of the country, the institution is identifying pockets of new graduates and holding events that might appeal to them, such as job-networking get-togethers.

A $200-million matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio helped spur the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International (No. 61), in Evanston, Ill., to try new ways to attract younger donors. It wanted to get young people excited about a cause that’s not all that sexy, or even pertinent, since it’s mainly a problem in the developing world.

People who gave to the campaign got purple dye or purple nail polish painted on the nails of their pinky fingers. In Africa, doctors have used the color to quickly spot vaccinated kids with polio.

So far, the campaign has been successful, with Rotaract, as the group for college students is called, donating nearly $192,000 from its fund-raising efforts and Interact, the high-school group, raising nearly $274,000 for the project. “These interactions served as a creative fund-raising approach that raised significant dollars,” says John Osterlund, the foundation’s general manager.

Building a Pipeline

Young donors are increasingly seen as integral to big-budget capital campaigns. Children’s Memorial Hospital (No. 329) is seeking more than $600-million to build a new $915-million hospital in downtown Chicago. To date, more than $500-million has been raised in the campaign, which ends in December 2012.

The biggest challenge is to build the pipeline for development, and finding more donors, says Thomas J. Sullivan, president of the organization’s fund-raising foundation. So besides giving tours to older, major donors in the still-incomplete structure, the hospital is pioneering a fund-raising method popular with people who recently graduated from college.

The citywide dance marathon it started in Chicago riffs off a very popular college fund-raising concept: the hours-long dance event. Its focus was alumni who were familiar with the concept on their campuses. Now in only its second year, Chicago Dance Marathon 2011 raised $301,000 last year, with 400 young professionals attending the event and dancing for 13.1 hours to raise money.

The hospital is also busy developing mini-marathon events at high schools, and even reaching out to younger kids. Last year’s inaugural mini-marathon attracted 10 participating schools, which together raised nearly $15,000. Hospitals in cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix, and Washington are looking at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial as a model and starting their own citywide dance marathons.

Mr. Sullivan says, “We see this as a way to enhance young professionals’ involvement, especially those who don’t have kids yet, to at least give them an understanding of what Children’s Memorial Hospital is and the role it plays in this community.”

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