NOV 1, 2016 | Richard Levick, CONTRIBUTOR
Rich Or Poor, Grandparents Drive New Markets
When demographic trends create new demand, entrepreneurs respond with innovative products and services. Productivity rises, jobs get created. Yet the overall dynamic is all the more exhilarating when, as a result, social problems are solved or averted.
Now consider thesedemographics: As of 2016, there were 74 million grandparents in the United States with nearly two million added to those ranks every year. Grandparents already head up around 40% of all U.S. households and that number is increasing at a disproportionate rate compared to “traditional” households.
Grandparents also control 75% of the nation’s wealth. It’s an obviously compelling statistic from a business standpoint and, of course, thousands of companies are already focused directly or indirectly on this sector. But that’s not to say there isn’t room for further growth or clever new ways to market to these buyers. To what extent, for example, have nonprofits articulated outreach strategies, a particularly salient question in light of the fact that 45% of all their cash contributions are now made by grandparents?
But there’s a sub-demographic as well, and I have no statistics to calculate the size of this population. Along with moneyed seniors, Amer- ican society is rife with families headed up by
grandparents only because the parents themselves have disappeared, died, or are serving time. They don’t need travel agents who specialize in multigenerational vacation packages. Their very different needs would seem to be the subject of a wholly different discussion – but not necessarily.
Enter Jim Moore. Moore is the head of business and community initiatives for Grands Matter, a resource center designed to serve the needs of grandparents of every socio-economic stripe. “We envision something very different from what important organizations like AARP provide,” says Moore. “We’re not a clearinghouse for insurance or other products, and we don’t do public advocacy. Instead, we work directly with grandparents to enhance how they play out their roles as grandparents – to make being a grandparent an even richer experience – as well as solve the diverse problems they’re facing.”
For the rich, that might mean suggesting new strategies in estate planning and hooking them up with estate planners in their areas who can help. For the poor, it might mean finding local daycare facilities at no cost or affordable cost.
Such initiatives are all the more interesting when they occupy space that no one else or few others have ventured, and when their initiators can point to past success that surpassed expectations and promise future success. Moore can check off both those boxes. In 1998, he founded WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), which has enlisted a whopping 600,000 fathers to volunteer at their children’s schools. They tutor, supervise recess, patrol the grounds after school. Dads, kids, and public schools themselves benefit.
Moore was mentored by Dr. Ken Canfield, the nationally known founder of the National Center for Fathering, into which WATCH D.O.G.S. was eventually folded. Canfield, richly experienced in both the inner city and wealthy suburbs, would go on to found Grands Matter. Like the National Center for Fathering, Canfield and Moore are tackling the broadest venue of issues – from grandparenting special-needs children to long- distance grandparenting as well as those whose grandchildren were acquired via marriage.
For the wealthier families, business succession is often an issue. “Some 70% of businesses ultimately fail to meet the succession challenge because their advisors, trained in tax law or financial planning, are not trained in passing the relational baton to the next generation,” says Canfield. “We are helping business owners, who are now grandparents, enrich their own relationships so that they can develop a succession plan that preserves their values, their codes of conduct, as a defining part of the business two generations hence – even while their children or grandchildren have enough autonomy to run the business as their own.”
For the poorer families, the biggest issue is pacing themselves emotionally, physically, and financially. “Right now grandparents have 7.5 million kids in their custodial care and they need to tap into ancillary resources,” says Moore. That can mean Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, local school resources of which they may not be aware, municipally sponsored programs, and so forth. “We communicate with relentless focus,” adds Moore, “because our message is, ‘don’t give up.’”
It seems significant that, as Canfield points out, grandparents are very seldom the victims of an inner-city drive-by shooting. They command respect even from those with so little respect to give. Which points to an important fact about all grandparents that further defines the Grands Matter mission: Grandparents don’t just need resources; they are a resource, one of the richest we’ve yet to tap.
Richard S. Levick, Esq. @richardlevick, is Chairman and CEO of LEVICK, a global strategic communications and public affairs firm.