John Deere's massaging corn teether

In the centre fold of the Globe and Mail recently was an article on philanthropy outlining a troubling trend. The amount of charitable donations is bouncing back and the number of givers is up (comparing 2009 to 2010 stats). This is the happy news. At 53 however, the median age of the givers hasn’t changed in over a decade. That’s the troubling part.

The question for charities is how to attract younger donors, especially when lessons of generosity are often taught through religious institutions, which are also failing in our country.

Perhaps we should be taking a lesson from John Deere. I was on the hunt recently for a massaging corn teether for a very new relative. It’s a clever little gizmo that looks like a smily-faced cob of corn and when it is gnawed on by a discontented teether, it emits a soothing buzzzzzzzzzzz. The packaging indicates that it also teaches cause and effect—a very good lesson for a baby who might grow up on a farm and need to know the immediate ramifications of throwing a rock at a bull.

On a trip out of town, I came across a John Deere dealership and stopped in to have a look. The yard around the store was neatly filled with big-boy John Deere mechanisms. Inside, I was amazed to find clearly one-third of the store taken up with little-boy toys (the gender bias is profound … but that’s another story). Every real-live John Deere has a mini version, all in their carefully branded green and yellow.

On a website where they describe their brand, they are very intentional about wanting to build their business on the sons and grandsons (their words) of this generation of farmers. Every time a little boy climbs on a replica of a tractor pulling a round baler (package of four round bales sold separately), he imprints like a gosling with its mama. Brilliant.

At 174 years old as a business, I’d say they have developed an enduring brand. They were #98 in the top 100 brands in the world this year.

So, the question remains. How do today’s charities build linkages with the next generation of givers? Good examples include fluffy stuffed animals from WWF and those nifty magnets that hold pictures of sponsored children nose-height on fridges across the country.  What can you do to ingrain on the children and grand children of your most valued donors?