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Season of Giving: Retiring later, boomers are getting around to donating

For causes they are passionate about, baby boomers in Henderson County are generous not only with their time but also with their money, to the extent their pocketbook allows.

“Boomers – that’s what carried us,” said Jeff Miller, remembering back to 2006 when he founded Blue Ridge Honor Flight. The flights to Washington, D.C. honored the Greatest Generation – veterans of World War II – but it was their boomer-aged children and friends who donated the money to make it happen.

Either “they have a passion” for helping veterans, Miller said, or they are military veterans themselves. “They very often merge. It’s a commitment to honor those that did serve in the military.”

Most of the money raised for the first flight “came from individuals and families in the baby boomer generation. Lots of checks” and cash in small amounts, Miller said. “We raised $133,000 in the first six weeks of forming Honor Flight – none of it was corporate money. You can sponsor a vet for $300.”

“Boomers have always been a very generous generation,” Miller said. “They always figure out a way to give a little bit.”

Between the years 1946 and 1964, 76 million babies were born, creating the population surge that has had a major impact on society, the economy and culture. In Henderson County, more than 40 percent of the population is boomer age. And while the leading edge of boomers has turned 71 and have passed what is considered the common retirement age in the United States – 67 – many are still working, part-time if not fulltime.

In a presentation to the Association of Fundraising Professionals of WNC this fall, First Citizens Wealth Management noted that in 2005, there were more than 80 million boomers in the workforce. If they had plans to retire by 65, those plans changed in 2007 with the Great Recession.

In 2011, an Associated Press survey showed that more than 60 percent of boomers lost value in investments because of the economic crisis, 42 percent had decided to delay retirement and 25 percent thought they would never retire.

“They have a very different income stream than our parents,” said Kimerly Hinkelman, executive director of the Pardee Hospital Foundation. “Boomers are more cautious. There is uncertainty with Social Security and Medicare. There are no givens. How to outlive their expenses is their biggest worry. Boomers moved around a lot in jobs and there are no pensions. The financial resources that they have to give charitably are quite different. They are not in a position at age 65 or 55 to be making large charitable donations.”

But that doesn’t mean boomers are stingy.

“Our donors are baby boomer and older,” said Lutrelle O’Cain, executive director of the Blue Ridge Humane Society. “It’s across the board in donations. They are very consistent donors. (Some) have been giving $20 a month for years. And then there are large one-time gifts that come out of the blue.”

“I am consistently amazed at the generosity of people – their extreme generosity, not the size of the gift,” O’Cain said. “We get the sweetest, most caring notes from people. Lots of times the gifts are anonymous … Every single penny adds up. This is a very generous community, from the corporate side, too.”

She said greatest number of donations comes in to the Humane Society in the last two months of the year, which has helped the agency meet its budget every year. This year’s budget is $1.160 million, she said. She also noted the effect of a better economy – more adoptions. This year the Humane Society has had 1,200 successful adoptions – 100 more than in 2016, she said.

Cultivating relationships with donors is crucial, nonprofit leaders know, and they develop those relationships through special events, volunteer opportunities and delivering on their mission.

Alice and Bob Betts began donating to the Park Ridge Health Foundation several years ago because of their personal experience with the hospital.

“Park Ridge Hospital is a special place,” Alice said. “They were so, so kind” to family members who were patients. “Park Ridge has always been there when we needed them. Its deeply religious beliefs and practices are not what you find in many hospitals.”

Park Ridge is one of 45 hospitals in the Adventist Health System, one of the largest, not-for-profit Protestant health care systems in the country.

The donations that she and Bob have made to the hospital’s foundation reflect their appreciation of the hospital’s caring medical staff and its focus on all her family’s needs.

“Park Ridge Hospital is an exceptional hospital for this community,” she said.

United Way of Henderson County finds that “many of the younger boomers are still working and still choose to give to United Way through payroll deduction if their workplace offers that opportunity,” said Denise Cumbee Long, executive director.

“Retired boomers tend to make one-time gifts on an annual basis, and some contribute stock or solicit matching funds from their former companies. We focus on retaining our boomer donors after they retire and keeping them engaged as contributors and volunteers.”

“Many boomers are not only generous but also want to know their contributions are being used wisely and well, so they appreciate our model of careful vetting of the programs and partner agencies that receive United Way support,” she said. “Some also tell us they like the option to designate to community causes that are particularly close to their hearts. We find boomers to be thoughtful and strategic about their philanthropy.”

“Many of our leadership donors ($1,000 or more annually) fit in the Baby boomer and the older retiree generations. Our leadership donors contribute over $522,000 each year to United Way and their donations make up about one-third of our total campaign revenue,” Long said.

In 2016, United Way raised $1.46 million that it distributed into the community, including funding grants to 39 community service programs.

How to honor donors is a challenge for nonprofits.

“Recognition? They don’t necessarily want that,” said Sherri Holbert, director of the Park Ridge Health Foundation. “It’s just about generosity and giving. They don’t want us to spend a ton on recognition. But we want to be good stewards and we feel that they must be thanked for their generosity.”

“They want to know … how they can make an impact,” she said. “They want to feel valued and good. They want to feel like they make a difference.”