Calling All Generations–ready, set, GIVE!

Friends Playing on the Beach

With each new generation coming into adulthood, cultures and patterns change. A recent Giving Speaks post Religion in the Age of the Nones ( ) dealt with the significant changes and trends of decreased religious affiliation among younger adults. Just as important for religious and philanthropic organizations is to understand the differences among the generations when it comes to designing giving programs and fundraising appeals. One size does not fit all!

small-shoes In America there is an unprecedented transference of $40 Trillion in wealth occurring between the aging Mature and Baby Boomer generations and their children. It is essential that those who are raising funds to support charitable and religious organizations understand the varying approaches required in working with their donors in each generational cohort. Those in the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1942 and 1960) and the Mature Generation (born prior to 1945) were motivated to give for different reasons than young adults born after 1960. The elder givers are motivated to give to help meet the needs not met by governmental programs. They support religious and community organizations and are most comfortable responding to mail appeals and face-to-face requests. Baby Boomers are hearty supporters of secular causes. They give to religion, but at lower levels than their elders.

Trends and emerging giving patterns of younger adult donors are being studied, with what makes donors tickparticular attention being paid to the relatively small group receiving the largest share of the wealth and building their own net worth. These “Next Gen Donors” will be the philanthropists of the future and the major donors in America for several decades to come. It behooves all charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations to learn more what makes these younger, higher net worth donor prospects tick.

Philanthropic research over the past five years tells us is that Next Gen Donors (between the ages of 21 and 48) are generous people. These individuals want to know their contributions go to causes that matter most to them and move them emotionally. They take a “hands on” approach to their involvement with recipient organizations, because they want to know their charitable dollars are making the world a better place. Often this involves younger adults volunteering their time and talent as well as their money.

Among those in Net Gen Donors group, most of their charitable giving goes to secular causes, with less than half going to religion. This means that religious organizations must polish their stewardship strategies and employ current fundraising best practices, being much more proactive in their donor relationships. Next Gen Donors prefer online giving and are more comfortable with solicitation through social networking media channels. Their total annual charitable giving among younger adult donors ranges from $1,300 to $2,000 on average, and the levels most likely will increase over their lifetimes.

money online

Stewardship strategies and fundraising practices must be adapted to meet the challenges of greater competition for charitable dollars. Generation and technological trends must be taken into consideration when planning cultivation techniques and messaging for appeals.

Here are some generational characteristics and recommended fundraising approaches:


Younger Adults (born mid-1980’s to present)

  • Think “multichannel” communication—mail appeals (hard copy), electronic appeals (email, e-newsletters), and online giving options (websites) are the top three channels for charitable giving.
  • Check-out donations—grocery stores, coffee shops, and businesses offering charitable giving opportunities with purchases.
  • Social media appeals from charitable organizations and religious communities with whom they have a relationship—ask your young volunteers and visitors for their contact information!
  • Peer-to-peer social, networking, and fundraising events—younger donor prospects like events that bring committed people together around causes and organizations of interest.
  • Encourage volunteer involvement and other ways of engaging in hands-on service and making a real difference in their communities.
  • Appeals that include information about the organization and its priorities, a request for a specific amount, and details about how contributions will be used, and a promise of quarterly progress updates.
  • Written appeals featuring the organization’s programs and services of greatest interest and relevance to younger adults, whether they are single, partnered, or parents of young children.

Middle-Aged Adults (born between mid-1940’s and late 1970’s) SSL Montclair

  • A large segment of this generational group came of age at a time of great idealism, anti-war and anti-establishment sentiments. Their idealistic fervor persists regardless political or religious affiliation.
  • Many are disenchanted with politics and religion, preferring to work hard for charitable causes that support grand moral movements, social justice advocacy, and hands-on service.
  • A good number grew up in families affected by divorce, high unemployment, and unsure financial futures. They tend to commit time and resources to strengthening relationships and communities.
  • Respond to mailed appeals and are increasingly comfortable with email appeals and online giving channels.
  • Check-out donations and charitable gift card benefit programs are effective giving options.
  • Appeal to their idealistic interests by featuring programs and services that address major societal issues and reform causes.
  • Peer-to-peer and in person meetings and community events are very effective in asking these adults for contributions.

elder with youth Mature Adults (born prior to 1942)

  • Civic causes, philanthropic organizations, and religious institutions are important to older adults who came of age in America during the World War II.
  • Printed mail appeals with detailed content are the familiar approach for this group, and their giving response is strong. Mature donors prefer to send a check by mail to the charities of their choice.
  • Messaging that emphasizes giving back, fair share, and regular contributing language is effective in appeals.
  • Leaving a legacy matters–encourage planned giving as a means of strengthening the institution and its mission and core values for future generations.


Resources on Generational Trends and Differences:

21st Century Faith Formation

Bhagat, Vinay; Loeb, Pam; Rovner, Mark. The Next Generation of American Giving. March 2010. Convio, Edge Research, and Sea Change Strategies.

Campbell & Company. Generational Differences in Charitable Giving and in Motivations for Giving. Report prepared for the Center on Philanthropy. May 2008.

Chronicle of Philanthropy. Philanthropy 400 Reflects Generational Shift in American Giving. October 17, 2010.

Giving Speaks blog posts on multigenerational giving and generosity, and by age group.

Johnson, Grossnickle & Associates. Millennial Donors: A Study of Millennial Giving and Engagement Habits. Achieve. 2010. The Millennial Impact Report.