How Do We Get Younger?

How Do We Get Younger?


19 December 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


There exists a perception that conservation is for old people, that land trust constituencies are getting older, and that attracting young people has to be a strategic priority. And just like all perceptions, it’s partially true.

I regularly screen donor lists for my clients using a wealth/philanthropy service called DonorSearch. One of the data points it returns is Date of Birth. So I have some data now about average age of land trust donors. And it HAS gone up in the last ten years, but the increase is not dramatic.

The average age has increased from 66 to 67. The observed range is from 63 to 71. 75% of land trust donors are Boomers and older. 25% are Gen-X and younger.

Important Caveats: DonorSearch is only able to get DOB information for 75-80% of any given file. It is theoretically possible that ALL of the missing information is from donors in their 20s (or 90s!), but it’s more likely that the missing information also matches the information we can see. Also, my data set now includes 36 different organizations and 41,000 donors across the country – still pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is that WE are getting older. And the people we know are getting older. And that somewhere it dawns on all of us that we won’t be here forever. And that we are afraid that we won’t be replaceable. And we fear our work will be undone by those who follow us.

These are valid fears, but they are probably not related to the age of our constituents.


Still – it’s a good question: How do we get younger? Meaning how do we foster our organization getting younger? Or at least maintaining its current average age?

Many advisors recommend chasing various forms of shiny new objects (IMHO). Like crowdfunding schemes, social media, less paper, and more electronic media. As if the problem lies in the media and not in the branding.


I’m thinking differently. First of all, I don’t necessarily believe it’s a problem – yet. I suspect that if you looked at environmental/conservation donors in the 1990s and 2000s, you would find that the average age was also around 66 and 67. This is the age when people send their last kid to college, when they start seriously thinking about retiring, when they still have energy to volunteer, and when they care about giving back. They discover and rediscover nature and conservation work as personal values. And they have more disposable time and money that they have had in years.

Second, no generation is monolithic. There are people who value nature and conservation in every generation and they have more in common with each other than people within any one of the generations. Instead of targeting Millennials (or any specific generation!), I recommend reaching out to people of any age who already share a concern for the environment and value nature and conservation.

I also think WE are part of the problem. When Gen-Xers look at the land trust, what do they see?

If the answer is a vibrant, welcoming organization that is seen as a valued community asset …

If the answer is organizational leadership that includes people they know and respect and that look like them …

If the answer is more responsive to community needs than competitive with other community needs …

Then the organization will grow and evolve.

But if the faces of land trust leadership are substantially the same as they were 20 years ago, the organization runs the risk of being seen as an institution – something to appreciate and use, but not necessarily a place to plug in.


I have no problems with the shiny new objects. I think most of our materials and messaging could be updated to be more relevant, and especially for younger people. But I think older people using new tools, trying to sound hip end up looking like older people using new tools, trying to sound hip. They don’t end up looking younger – or necessarily becoming any more attractive to younger audiences.


  • Consider adopting term limits to stimulate regularly bringing new people into organizational leadership.
  • Be very intentional about leadership development. Give new people the tools, the training, and the encouragement to become leaders. And then trust them to do so.
  • Use an advisory committee as a way to invite new people to engage and give retiring board members a meaningful way to stay engaged.
  • Insist that all board members regularly interact with members and donors – ambassadorship – so that they get to know the constituency and the public at large in their capacity as board members.
  • Regularly comb through the photos used on the website, on social media, and in the newsletters. Do they include photos of people? (Most should!) And if you were 45-65 years old, would you see people who look like you?
  • After that, stay the course and trust the process. If your organization is perceived a certain way, it may take years to change that perception.


It’s not time to panic. WE are getting older every year, but our constituency isn’t necessary keeping pace the way we fear. New people are coming in all the time. Embrace them. Welcome them. Show them that they have an important role to play in the coming decades.


Happy Holidays! and have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by G Poulsen courtesy Pixabay



Share this!
  • Beth Sanford
    Posted at 08:31h, 19 December

    Communicating that open space is essential for climate resilience is also important to all, especially to those dealing with the effects of climate change for a longer part of their lifetime.

  • Jill Boullion
    Posted at 07:40h, 19 December

    An active community engagement program that brings volunteers to the organization will attract younger people that may decide to engage at a deeper level. Active committees that give people things to really DO also attracts a younger cohort that will grow to leadership positions. We don’t restrict committee involvement to donors– if you have an interest in our mission we want your input.

  • Jay Addison
    Posted at 07:35h, 19 December

    Happy Holidays!

  • Deanna Frautschi
    Posted at 07:32h, 19 December

    Definitely agree with adding an Advisory Committee. Gives those retiring from board a place to stay involved but more importantly, it’s a place to develop new supporters and from which to draw new board members.