min read

Every generation differs in what they care about and what catches their attention, based on economic, political, and social factors. Understand what generation the majority of your target audience falls under and tailor your fundraising appeals to them. Here is what you need to know about four donor generations, and how to best engage with them.

Gen Z: Born 1997- Present (0-21 years old)

General Info: Gen Z makes up about 20.4% of the U.S population and is currently the youngest generation.

When looked at as a whole, their current spending power comes out to over $44 billion per year. They are the fastest growing generation and will take up a large chunk of the workforce in under 5 years. Gen Z grew up in an unstable economic environment following the recession and a highly charged political environment around social issues. This has shaped their attitudes and has pushed many of them to be activists for change.

In the nonprofit world they are known as philanthroteens. Their generosity and their need to make a change has already been noticed as defining factors of their engagement with outside organizations, making them one of the largest potential donor bases of the upcoming generation of donors.

Giving Stats:

  • 59% were motivated to give from something they saw on social media
  • 30% have donated to charity
  • 26% volunteer

How to Engage: Two words: social media. Traditional media is less effective because Gen Z grew up in the world of social media. Unlike Millennials, they don’t remember a time without being connected digitally. 98% have a smartphone and engage in social media an average of 15 hours per week.

With this said, Gen Z is so familiar with social media that 69% have begun to avoid ads. According to Ad Age, the best way to get Gen Z engaged is through video content. Incorporate a short, easy to consume video in order to catch this generation’s attention. Make sure it includes an emotionally compelling call to action so that they can clearly relate to the power of their impact.

Another engagement idea for this demographic is to implement a program to engage social media influencers. These influencers play a huge role in defining the brands that Gen Zers trust. Try making a shortlist of influencers across your best performing social networks and then approach them as passionate advocates for your work. You can even adopt a model where you engage with their content and tag them when sharing relevant topics for their own networks.

This is a great way to increase brand awareness around your organization’s impact and to build credibility within this group.

Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1981-1996 (22-37 years old)

General Info: There are over 80 million millennials in the United States alone and they make up about 25.9% of the U.S population.

They are the largest group in the workforce and will become the largest consumer group (right behind Gen X) in the next few years. While growing up, Millennials saw a huge increase in electronics and technology and were introduced to social media platforms in the early 2000s. They are seen as generally opened-minded and are the most ethnically diverse generation.

A major characteristic of this group is that they are more likely to give to causes that build community or offer social connection.

Giving Stats:

  • 84% give to charity
  • 11% of total U.S. giving
  • 40% are enrolled in monthly giving programs

How to Engage: This is a generation of digital natives. The majority of them use smartphones, but unlike Gen Z they use their phones for more than social media. They are likely to engage with multiple digital marketing strategies, and so are best reached through a digital-first, multi-channel approach.

For example, a digital email newsletter highlighting community impact paired with retargeting ads for those that visit the site on social networks would best engage this group. The most important thing to remember with this generation is mobile optimization that makes your page easy to navigate. If a donation takes more than a few clicks, they will disengage.

Since this generation depends heavily on their community, they also tend to trust and communicate with their peers at a higher frequency. This is why peer-to-peer fundraising and leveraging your volunteer network as social champions are key tactics for creating long-term engagement.

Generation X: Born 1965-1980 (38-53 years old)

General Info: Gen X is the smallest generation, sitting at about 20% of the U.S. population. It is sometimes referred to as the “middle child” of the generations.

Gen Xers were born into an era of rising divorce rates, a decline in the economy, and an era where women were entering the workforce in large numbers. These events influenced this generation to prioritize self-sufficiency and individuality. They are also comfortable with the current technological landscape and are savvy with smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

Giving Stats:

  • 49% are enrolled in monthly giving programs
  • 31% gave because of emails
  • 64% volunteer locally

How to Engage: This is the group to reach out to if you need volunteers for your organization’s events. They love to give their time, energy and money to an organization. According to Independent Sector, a volunteer today is worth $24.14 per hour. Help your organization save by engaging this generation for volunteer opportunities.

This demographic also responds well to emails explaining an organization’s mission and giving them the option of monthly giving. You can reach them through social media because they have become tech-savvy, but the majority will begin the giving process because of compelling outreach emails that provide long-form value propositions. Be sure to be transparent about your goals and where their donation will be going in order to build trust and credibility.

Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)

General Info: Standing at 23.6% of the U.S. population, they make up the majority of donations.

Most of this generation give to charity on a regular basis and are heavily involved in monthly giving programs. Surprisingly, they are also migrating online in increasing numbers. The Baby Boomer generation has experienced a massive expansion in technology over their lifetimes. They are still the largest consumers of traditional media but don’t count them out as users of social and digital channels, as well.

Giving Stats:

  • 72% give to charity
  • 15% gave on GivingTuesday
  • 35% give to crowdfunding campaigns

How to Engage: While this generation appreciates traditional media like direct mail, in recent years their online presence has been sharply increasing. A Google Study showed that in 2013, over 78% of this generation were online. So, just like Millennials, use a multi-channel approach, but prioritize “traditional” media in your mix to engage Baby Boomers and gain their support toward your organization. If you’re using social media as one of your channels, prioritize Facebook: it’s the most-used platform for this demographic.

This generation is also big on monthly giving programs. If your donors in this age category reach out, explain your recurring giving program. They are likely to sign up and start giving regularly because it is an easy and automatic way to support the causes they are passionate about.

Overall, the best approach is one that takes into consideration the channels your donors use to engage and facilitates long-term stewardship through these mediums. Tracking the source of your support is essential to creating sustainable relationships, regardless of age.

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.