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Interesting Research: Motivations of Builder Age Donor versus Buster Age Donor

Builders vs. Busters

As I have been reading research from The Barna Group, Penelope Burk, CLA's new Economic Outlook Report, AFP, and others, I have gleaned an interesting conclusion:

Builder Age donors gave to organizations because they were Christian or religious, and if they accomplished a social service too, that was great. But their main trust and motivation was that the organization was a Christian cause or faith-based organization.

The Buster Age donor gives to organizations working in social services, impacting people, and making a difference in the lives of people or causes. If they are Christian, that is OK too, but not necessarily a determining factor.

(Author's note: If I have misquoted a specific research point please let me know. There are so many email reports coming these days that I may have missed who I should give credit to. If I misquoted I will correct immediately. Thanks.)

Let's take a look at this generational giving point and examine how it relates to our development efforts.

  1. We can see that the Builder generation was motivated by faith, involvement in organized religion, and great trust in their ministry leaders.
  2. Builders felt called to the ministry as their central point of doing the work of the Gospel. They, as donors, gave. And the organized denomination or parachurch ministry did the "front lines work".
  3. The Builder donors did not consider ROI, accountability, or reports of outcomes to be a determining factor in their motivation to contribute to Kingdom work. This is not to say they did not care about those things. It was just that they assumed or trusted God to do great things with their giving.

By comparison, let's look at the Busters.

  1. The Buster generation is not motivated by results that just create income, but results that are successful in achieving their mission statement.
  2. This success is measured in impacting people, changing lives, and making a difference. (all phrases you have heard)
  3. They believe all nonprofits should have accountability built in, and are more skeptical than they are faithful.
  4. This motivational trend integrates with the emerging church concepts of "hands on ministry," experiential involvement, and "doing" the work of Jesus not just talking about it.
  5. Christian labels, denominations or even Christian ministries matter less than the organization's success at getting the work done.

So where does this leave us? Is one generation more "right" than the other? Do we focus our development communication to the older or younger generation? All of these are important questions for our organizations to consider. The difficulty will be in trying to avoid "pendulum swing". We must avoid swinging from one extreme to another. For example, if we try to explain the measurable outcomes of one ministry program so the younger donors can understand the ROI, we must not leave out the "ministry language" and thereby leaving older donors feeling we have comprised our faith.

Development is creating opportunities for God's people to be connected to God's work - you have heard me say this many times. Our task in this generational issue is to design multiple opportunities that speak and connect different generations with different priorities to the great work our organizations accomplish. This is not an easy task. Another reason it gets complex is the internal versus external viewpoint in our ministry leadership. Some still live in the world where if board and staff think something it must be the truth. In this era of donor communication and input, that is just not enough! (a future article!)

As you plan your communication for multiple generations, keep this piece of research in mind. Stay sensitive to the "Christian-ese" we use. At the same time, find creative ways to explain the accomplishments of the ministry that impact lives, as well as share the powerful Gospel of Jesus!

Till next time,


Dr. John R. Frank, CFRE