Baby Boomers and Older Adults: Go For Startups

Despite the ups-and-downs of my experiences in the nonprofit sector over the course of thirty years, I remain optimistic about the future. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on LinkedIn about the Millennial generation. There, I reference an article by Jean Case, in Forbes (June 18, 2014), “The Business of Doing Good: How Millennials Are Changing the Corporate Sector.”

“Many in this generation are known for being well-educated, entrepreneurial, tech savvy and idealistic. They take risks, are bold and want to change the world. Unlike past generations, they want to make their passions, inspirations and desire to do good part of their identity—and part of their work. The lines between personal passions and professional engagements are already rapidly disappearing. As a result, this commitment to doing good in the workplace is quickly becoming the new norm that will define the generation.”

#2030NOW

My experience is that Millennials and younger generations following on their heels are committed to a fixing the problems of society and to creating a better world at all levels. They are unafraid of tackling difficult challenges with creativity and conviction. And, they are already dominating the workforce. Their impact will continue to be far-reaching for decades to come. Hardly any American corporation today can afford to ignore them.

As I note in, “Nonprofits and Boomers: Are We Missing the Boat,” nonprofit organizations must also be mindful that Boomer and older generations are key for successful fundraising, for their knowledge and their valuable life experiences. Boomers are a generous generation and highly supportive of nonprofit endeavors, yet they are often seen as being stodgy and old fashioned.

Marketing professionals continue to focus on the young and the aesthetics of youth. And while many older adults do strive to be “younger” in some ways, as time moves forward and the aging population explodes worldwide, we are seeing a growing pride in being “older” and in the aesthetic preferences of older adults. Notice my Gravatar on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog: I am embracing my naturally gray hair this year (as are a growing number of other “Boomers”), after years of tinting it.

Go For

Earlier this year, I approached a large national foundation that also has a substantial number of donor advised funds, with a grant proposal for funding an outstanding nonprofit project. But the nonprofit’s annual operational budget, being “under $500,000,” meant the foundation declined support based solely on that criteria. They would not take even a cursory glance at what the nonprofit is accomplishing, at how well run it is, and how worthy it might have been as a partner. On a personal note, what that foundation’s professional advisors also missed is that some of the Board members and donors of that nonprofit were capable of establishing donor advised funds. They would have been thrilled to receive even a modest grant and might have themselves become donor advised fund clients. But the “under $500,000” rule supplanted all other considerations in this case. But why is operating budget size so important?

Since returning to Austin in 2013 and helping nonprofit “startups” bolster their infrastructure and credibility in order to be able to secure more substantial donations, I have noticed some funders reluctant to support them because they are, “too small.” Potential donors cite the nonprofits have not been in existence long enough (i.e., five years or more). Some decline because these smaller and younger initiatives have not had formal audits, which are an expensive undertaking for most small nonprofit organizations (and there are reputable alternatives). I visited with one foundation a few years ago that required every nonprofit applicant to have four consecutive years of professional audits. That is way over the top. I advised them to focus instead on gold-level or higher GuideStar profiles and GreatNonprofits reviews by those actually involved with and volunteering for the nonprofits applying.

The fact is, many of these startups and young nonprofits are lean staff- and budget-wise, and they operate highly efficiently. They accomplish amazing things with relatively little and the staff are deeply loyal to their missions. In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the donor and professional advisor sectors, and the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, which are in fact smaller in size.

From the GuideStar Blog comes, “What Does the Nonprofit Sector Really Look Like?” (January 6, 2017):

“The majority of nonprofits (66.3%) have annual budgets of less than $1 million. From there, as organization size increases, the number of nonprofits decreases. For every 1 powerhouse (annual expenses more than $5 billion) nonprofit, there are thousands of grassroots organizations.”

My hope is for deeper, long-term partnerships between younger and older generations, the latter holding significant disposable income to make charitable donations. Boomers and older adults (and their professional advisors), often focus their charitable giving on tried-and-true nonprofits that have been in existence for many years. That is certainly their choice to make, but having seen nonprofits large and small in some detail as a professional fundraiser, I can say without hesitation many of younger and smaller nonprofits, startups and social good enterprises are more efficient and more likely to create positive change in society than the older, top-heavy ones. But these younger initiatives are often seen as being, “riskier.”

Boomers and Younger Generations Are Each Part of the Puzzle

Lose your fear and support startups and smaller nonprofit organizations. Younger generations are – and will be – driving much of the social change ahead. We need to trust and encourage them. But also, younger generations need to engage older citizens and tap their knowledge and enthusiasm for social good, as well as their charitable donations. Together we can change the world for the better.

You might also enjoy reading:

“Furthermore, demographic trends make it clear that over the next decade increasingly greater numbers of Millennials will be elected to office, giving them the power to enact laws that can change how corporations are governed and what responsibilities those entities owe to all of their stakeholders. When that happens the entire edifice of corporate governance constructed on the idea of only maximizing shareholder value will come crashing down and a new foundation for American corporations, built on trust and the values and beliefs of Millennials will arise in its place. Those companies that dedicate their future to changing the world for the better and find ways to make it happen, will be rewarded with the loyalty of Millennials as customers, workers and investors for decades to come. Those that choose to hang on to outdated cultures and misplaced priorities are likely to lose the loyalties of the Millennial generation and with it their economic relevance.”

  • Philanthropy News Digest, “Millennials Are Changing the Landscape of Social Change, Report Finds” (July 29, 2019).
  • United Nations Foundations, Social Good Summit 2014, #2030NOW
  • Wise: Seniors in Business is a website you might enjoy perusing. “Seniors in Business serves the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship in the world – senior (experience and knowledge) entrepreneurs (people over the age of 50) who are looking for an encore career, whether it is because they want to, or have to.” Older adults are also establishing nonprofit organizations to meet critical needs. Professional advisors need to be aware of this, too.

Thanks to the Adobe free image library for the photographs used to illustrate this blog post.

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