Stereotypes Are Good

Have you ever stereotyped someone?

The topic of stereotypes and their role in philanthropy is of special interest to me as an African American professional in this field; but the message ought to be equally important for anyone who communicates across generational gaps.

You may be surprised to read the next sentence. I like stereotypes. As social constructs, stereotypes are social short cuts we use to quickly make sense out of our environment. Humans are driven to classification; to categorize items in boxes that we can overlay meaning.  The popular Myers-Briggs personality test is a good example of this desire. Through a series of questions and short responses, the test taker can learn how to classify their personality. One of the two popular personality types includes introverts (quiet, shy and timid) and extroverts (loud, outgoing, and friendly).  These personality types give us a baseline understanding of ourselves and our peers. I am an introvert. I am self-aware of my communication style and use that knowledge as a tool to guide my interactions.

Stereotypes transition from social tools and become social hazards when we use them as a crutch upon which we lean all of our understanding. It takes energy to extend thought beyond the stereotype and to understand the individual person. In my case, although I identify as an introvert, my neighbors know that I was the loudest supporter of the Ravens when they won the Super Bowl (I am a Texan nonprofit professional but I am still a native Marylander).

On April 19, 2013, Tony Martignetti and Ms. Phyllis Haserot discussed the social classification fundraisers often impose on donors from specific generations. Each generation has its own preferred communication style; some styles blend across the generational divide while others do not. Ms. Haserot’s generational breakdown includes the following ages:

  • 70-Plus– Traditionals
  • 40-70– Baby Boomer
  • 35-40  – Gen X
  • 18-33-Millennials
  • 0-18 – Yet to be stereotyped

When asked to explain some of the basic conceptions of each generational group Ms. Haserot shared how the Millennial generation prefers to give less, attend special events, and network.  Although the conversation did not go into detail, my experience shows that the younger the age group the more likely less direct and more technological engagement is accepted; whereas more hard copy correspondence and/or personal meetings are expected as you rise in the above age scale.

Life experience such as friendships, education, and travel shape our preferences and break many of us from a stereotypical mold.

Ms. Haserot urges Nonprofit Radio’s audience to refrain from relying on this fragile mold. She urges the audience to ask the donor about their preferred communication style, how often they like to be contacted. She also urged the reader to attend seminars to learn about the best methods to communicate to a specific donor base.

When Mr. Martignetti asked Haserot for lasting words for the young fundraiser who may engage older donors she cited the importance of establishing creditability; once trust is lost it is not easily returned.

Trust can be obtained if the fundraiser takes the time to know donors from the initial contact. Fundraisers can be trained to ask the basic and important questions such as “how to do you prefer to be contacted” and “how often”. As volunteers frequently become donors, a volunteer intake form should have these questions cued. As preferences change, programs such as The Raisers Edge or a simple Excel sheet that tracks donor movement (such as meetings and relationship progression) can keep all of this data in order.

Beyond the upfront questions, the fundraiser can also use data to drive decisions. She/he can monitor current interfaces that are used. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, direct mail or a combination of them all, the fundraiser should record the effectiveness of each method. Social media now has free built-in tools that record site visits and other statistics. Record what is important to your organization.

The data will say whether or not the fundraising program is doing a good job reaching an audience (but it may prove difficult to discern age demographics from this reporting).

One final point: trust works both ways. Donors and fundraisers have to gain a mutual trust. The fundraiser should not hesitate to ask the donor what can be done better and trust that feedback and to have the courage to adjust accordingly. Many donors dislike when fundraisers only contact them for money…an effort to get feedback from donors between “asks “can show a sincere interest the fundraiser has to develop that bond.

Free surveys can be used to capture these data. Surveys such as SurveyMonkey can help the fundraiser design an online survey that then calculates results. Those same surveys can easily be imported into a Word text if hard copy is preferred.

Bottom line:

Use stereotypes to get a broad understanding of your donor base. Use data to break through assumptions and to improve the efficiency of your fundraising program.

Tony Martignetti, host Nonprofit Radio

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, guest, fundraising consultant

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