Charities should act to attract boomers


March 30, 1992|By LESTER S. PICKER

The greatest transfer of wealth in history has just begun. Beyond the inheritance of the Rockefeller progeny, thousands of times greater than the Fords or Carnegies, the baby boomers are beginning to inherit the wealth that their parents accumulated.

How large a pie is that? Baby boomers, those over-studied, over-taxed and over-stressed Americans between the ages of 30 and 45, stand to collect more than $6.8 trillion from their parents.

This impending transfer of wealth has many implications for charity. Professional journals in the area of philanthropy, and a recent uplifting book, "Give To Live" by Douglas M. Lawson (ALTI Publishing, La Jolla, Calif.), have devoted attention to this phenomenon.

As baby boomers acquire this wealth near retirement, and combine it with their own retirement savings, they will be much more comfortable than their own parents were. And as baby boomers enter the after-age-60 demographic group, they will increase their charitable activity, from volunteering to donating cash and other assets.

In other words, charities could be the largest beneficiaries of baby boomers' largesse.

So, if the demographic handwriting is on the wall, why aren't non-profit organizations rushing to curry favor with baby boomers? Non-profit boards should be preparing their organizations to obtain a share of the money that will become available over the next two or three decades.

One reason some non-profits aren't responding: Many baby boomers raised during the civil rights, Vietnam and Earth Day era tend to support non-traditional charities. Many baby boomers, for example, give money to international causes designed to protect the global environment or to foster peace.

Still, the majority of baby boomers will tend to support social and educational causes that are the mainstream of American philanthropy, especially as they grow older.

And there is an ancient rule in fund-raising circles: To get people to give at significant levels, an organization must first get those people involved.

First, organizations should examine their mission statements, to see where they can put to use the skills, talents and desires of baby boomers.

They should study the interests of this market and develop volunteer programs that address those interests.

Good volunteer programs are difficult to design and even harder to maintain.

I mean programs where volunteers feel challenged and are contributing members of the staff. Good programs help volunteers feel that they are addressing the social needs that attracted them to the cause.

Sources like United Way of Central Maryland can help organizations set up and maintain strong volunteer programs.

Aside from good volunteer programs, organizations need to help baby boomers understand -- and internalize through action -- just how much volunteerism and giving can improve the quality of one's life.

To this end, Mr. Lawson's book is a gem.

Subtitled, "How giving can change your life," the book emphasizes the gains derived from a life of giving and caring. Mr. Lawson explores issues of values, family life and spirituality within the context of charitable works.

Indeed, in working with non-profits, I've found that today's stresses and strains have wrung too much of the caring values from baby boomers.

With women back in the work force, the traditional source of community work has declined to a point where nearly every non-profit I know is pinched. Mr. Lawson's book suggests ways that families, teens and couples can volunteer and gain a sense of helping and caring that only community work can bring.

If non-profits want to position themselves to be the beneficiaries of the baby boomers' largesse, they need to act now.

Helping baby boomers find ways to feel good about themselves through community work in today's trying times would be a great first step.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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