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The Case for Gray Hair – Redux

The advancement profession is rare because there is an advantage to being a member of the “gray-haired” workforce. This designation applies to those 55+ men (who still have hair, of course) and women who sometimes find equally stylish alternatives. The logic goes that most of our best donors are themselves 55+ and find it easier to have rapport with age-peer advancement officers.

Yes but: There is truth to this, but let’s not be surprised that veteran advancement officers are also innovators. Granted, the Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Dells of the world were young when they struck upon their fate in their garage or dorm room. But one must visit MIT’s website to see bold innovations coming from 70-85-year-old faculty members. Ample research supports that people 55-65 are significantly more innovative than their younger counterparts.

Deeper: Mature advancement professionals bring accumulated expertise, know the needs of donors of many stripes, and understand what works in the field. These lessons take years to learn.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55-to-64 age group. Entrepreneurship has relevance to the advancement profession. Regardless of the job description, it is critical for anyone with advancement responsibilities to forge new paths, devise more effective ways to do business, and use current or new tools for greater results. The most successful mature fundraisers are not content to step into a long-standing role and settle for “doing it the way it has always been done.”

Team up: I want to encourage advancement shops, especially larger ones, to take advantage of their veteran professionals by establishing work teams that include them with young and mid-career staff. This will accelerate the maturing and productivity of younger staff and minimize loss of knowledge through attrition to benefit your organization and team.