Posted by Jay Wilkinson

One of the common questions I get as I travel around the country and work with nonprofits is this:

“Our target audience is primarily older adults who aren’t utilizing the web as much as the younger generations. What are the best ways to reach out to this type of audience?”

We laugh and joke about this a lot, those of us who do a lot of work in the nonprofit space, because this is something we hear constantly. But did you know that the fastest growing segment of the population embracing the internet today is people over the age of 65?  The joke is, of course, it’s because they’re the only ones left who aren’t online—but really, that’s not entirely true.

I hear people say quite a bit, “The problem is, all of our donors are getting older. We need to figure out how to find younger people to plug in.” But isn’t this just life? Donors are typically going to be, for the most part, in an older age segment because that’s when most of us get to the point when we have the resources to give back more robustly. We enter into a stage of life where that’s important to us. This is the way that life works. Of course, your best donors are typically going to be older.

But here’s the good news: In trying to reach that segment today, there’s really not a whole lot we need to do that’s remarkably different than how we reach the 30 and 40-year-olds. That’s because, contrary to what many believe, the 65+ crowd is truly engaging online, digesting content, plugging in and embracing the internet.

It’s important that we still include direct mail and appeal letters in our marketing mix, especially for those used to receiving traditional marketing pieces. Studies have shown that the response rates of well-produced direct mail pieces and appeal letters are still pretty good today, mostly with the 45+ segment. I’ve seen too many nonprofits completely abandon traditional marketing methods in favor of going all digital—and I believe this is a mistake.

Bottom line: We need to stay balanced and focus on both ends of the spectrum (digital vs. non-digital) and make sure that we’re reaching people in multiple ways. An integrated campaign that incorporates both will be the most effective, even among the late adopters who may be just embracing the online world.