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.

The Nurturing Tree

Yet another story in the Giving Speaks series–Creating a Giving Culture–One Story at a Time–featuring guest author Dr. Jerry D. Wright*

The Nurturing Tree

Once there was a boy who really enjoyed a tree.

He enjoyed the roughness of its bark when he climbed it.

He enjoyed the springiness of its branches when he swung on them.

He enjoyed the crackle, the smell and the pillowy feeling of its leaves when he gathered them into a big pile and jumped into them, in the fall of the year.

He enjoyed the crunch and tart taste of its apples when he bit into its ripe fruit.

And when the sun was hot, he enjoyed sitting in its shade, leaning against its sturdy trunk, thinking about all the things he hoped to do and have and be as he grew older.

The tree enjoyed the boy, too.

She enjoyed watching him grow stronger, able to do more things.

She enjoyed his company.

She enjoyed being useful.

But there came a long time when the boy stayed away.

Then one day, he returned and said to the tree, “I need some money,” and the tree said, “Well, money doesn’t     grow on trees, but apples do, and you’re welcome to gather my apples and sell them for money.” The tree was delighted to have the boy climbing about, gathering the apples she’d grown. She enjoyed his company and she enjoyed feeling useful.

But then the boy stayed away for a long time, again.

One bright, sunny day the tree saw him coming toward her—older now—a young man—and she was very happy. She really enjoyed his company. She enjoyed that he was bigger and looked stronger than when she had seen him last.

“I want a house,” he told the tree. “A house to live in and raise a family. Would you give me your wood?”

“I’ll give you a few of my branches,” she said, “and you may ask my neighbors for some of theirs. If I gave you all of my branches, I’d have nothing to support my leaves. Without leaves to turn sunlight and water into food, I would die. But as long as you take only a few of my limbs, I can grow others; so, you’re welcome to a few.”

The young man thanked the tree and chose a few of her branches to make into lumber for his house. He also asked her neighbors, who gave him a few branches here and there until he had enough.

Then he built his house and enjoyed it, and was gone for several years, again, until one day the tree recognized him coming toward her—a man in his middle years now, looking healthy and having good energy—and he said to the tree, “I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have a boat to sail on the lake, and I’d like to have your trunk to use for a hull.”

The tree liked the man very much—had liked him since when he was a small boy, climbing her trunk and diving into piles of her leaves—but she liked herself, too, and she said, “I like you a lot. I’ve enjoyed you for years. But I have good reasons to say ‘No’ to your request. First, if I gave you my trunk, I would die, and while I like to give of myself and feel useful, I know better than to give myself away. Secondly, I’ve noticed that you only come around when you want something for yourself. Other than that, I never see you”

“Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a boat; you don’t have to have wood to make a boat. Fiberglass is a wonderful material for building a boat. Build yourself a boat of fiberglass. And come visit me from time to time.”

At first, the man wasn’t happy about the tree’s response. Always, before, she had given him at least some of what he had asked for. But then she was right. He did only come see her when he wanted something, and fiberglass was a perfectly good material to use for building a boat.

The more he thought about it, he realized that at first, he and the tree had been giving each other something, but that as time had gone by, the tree had been doing almost all of the giving and he had been doing almost all of the taking.

He decided to take his children to play in, on and around the tree. He also bought some seedlings and showed his children how to plant them, so that the seedlings would grow up to keep the tree company.

Like all living things, the tree grew older and older and finally died, and the keepers of the forest cut her down, leaving only her stump. The man grew older, too, and returned to the tree one day, only to discover that nothing was left of her, but her stump.

She could offer no shade to sit in—no sturdy trunk to lean against—only her stump to sit upon, so the old man sat.

He thanked her for being there when he was a boy, allowing him to climb her sturdy trunk, bounce upon her springy branches, eat her crisp, tart apples, and pounce into piles of her fallen leaves. He thanked her for the shade she had provided, and for being there to lean upon when he just wanted a place to think thoughts and dream dreams. He thanked her, too, for the limbs she spared him for building his house. And then, as he thought some more, he thanked her, most of all, for setting limits and saying “No”—for only allowing him to have some of her limbs—not so many as would have damaged her—and for telling him “No” when he wanted her trunk, which would have killed her. He also thanked her for pointing out that he had fallen into a habit of thinking only of himself—coming around only when he wanted something from her.

He thought a long time.

When it came time for the old man to go, he patted the stump and said,  “Thanks for liking yourself as well as you liked me. I think that liking yourself enough to tell me “No” was the best gift you ever gave me.”

The end.

*Dr. Jerry D. Wright preached his first UU sermon in Bloomington, IN, on merger Sunday, when the Unitarians and Universalists merged to form the UUA. Subsequent to graduation from IU, he earned his BD (later MDiv) from Crane Theological School of Tufts University. He was a member of the first class of DsRE to be granted the status of Ministers of Religious Education. In  1989, he earned his DMin from Meadville Lombard . He served in churches in Massachusetts while at Crane; after ordination, he served congregations in New York, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas, before establishing the Inter-District Office of the UUA in Indianapolis, from which he consulted with congregations in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and western Ohio. He retired from the UU ministry in 1995, and after retiring in 2010 from doing data analysis for a hospital, amuses himself with photography and the crafting of “magic” wands (see display photo below).  To contact Dr. Jerry Wright directly:

Resources for Environmental Justice & Stewardship:

Unitarian Universalist Association: What is Environmental Justice?

Green Sanctuary Program:

Ethical Eating Resources:

Climate Change & Global Warming information:

Sustainable Local Economies:

Resources for Nurturing A Healthy Culture of Giving and Generosity:                                                                                        

Giving–the sacred art (book by Lauren Tyler Wright) and Study Guide for Giving–the sacred art for small groups  (by Laurel Amabile)       

UUA Congregational Stewardship Services:

Forward Through the Ages (FORTH) Program:

Ecumenical Stewardship Center:  A Network For Growing Stewards

Legacy Giving and the Beloved Community

 To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived.  This is to have succeeded.

                                                       ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many kinds of gifts that can be given and received.   Gifts can be tangible or intangible, large or small, simple or complex, and everything in between.   The gifts we give may be delivered with pizzazz for all to see, or stealthily without any public recognition.  Our giving may take place at regular intervals throughout our lifetimes, or passed on after we die.   Ultimately, most of us want our giving to make the world a better place.

Giving is a behavior or practice of making a choice to give a gift of money, time, possessions, talent, attention to others.  Our giving is an expression of our deepest-held values and priorities, and at its best, a spiritual practice that benefits others and blesses the world.  It is important to remember that our ability to give and making a positive difference does not require us to be of any particular age or in possession of great wealth.  What is required is a spirit of generosity and a philanthropic mindset.  There are a variety of means and tools available to help us with our giving in all its expressions.

Generosity is a state of being and mindset, with an inner awareness of having enough to share.  Generosity offers a way of living in deep relationship with the world and its inhabitants and expressing gratitude for all that is received.   Faith communities nurture generosity through religious teachings and opportunities for mission- and values-based giving.

Philanthropy derives from the Greek meaning “loving of humankind” and involves one’s actions and giving in support of humanitarian purposes.  Similarly, Charity refers to love of humanity and benevolent goodwill toward others.  Religious organizations and faith communities are uniquely positioned as venues for charitable giving.

Legacy Giving involves giving that is planned during one’s lifetime for the benefit of the people, causes, communities, and organizations beyond their lifetime.  This is done through explicitly stating how one’s money, possessions, or property is to be distributed, such as making a bequest of dollar amounts or percentage of assets.   Religious organizations and local congregations must make planned giving opportunities available to those who care deeply about sustaining their faith and their beloved community into the future.

What we do know from national giving data (USA Giving 2010) is that the majority of charitable dollars are given by individuals (81%), with bequests making up eight percent (8%) of total giving.    The largest proportion of charitable dollars are given to religious organizations, but this share is decreasing with the dramatic increase of other secular and nonprofit organizations competing for financial support.

Mature Americans (age 55 years and older) account for nearly $7 trillion in the following financial categories:

     -80% of all funds in savings,

-77% of America’s financial assets,

-70% of the net worth of all U.S. households

However, only forty percent (40%) of Americans have prepared wills and a mere six percent (6%) have included charitable bequests in their wills.   Our elders whom make up what is known as  the “silent” or “greatest generation” have amassed unprecedented wealth, with much of it held in real estate and retirement plans.

Currently, with the aging of the generations, we are experiencing the greatest transference of wealth ever seen, estimated at $41 trillion.   This is the right time for all congregations and faith-based organizations to establish or strengthen their planned giving programs.  These programs should be carefully structured and managed in keeping with recommended standards and best practices that honor the givers and their intent for their gifts.   There are many planning tools available, and most religious organizations have current information, knowledgeable staff, and giving programs available to assist congregations and individual donors.

It is essential for congregations to nurture generosity inspired by and connected to the values and teachings of the faith, to actively encourage expression of gratitude through intentional giving, and to offer opportunities for the faithful to leave a legacy of benefit to their beloved community.

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. 

                                                                ~Evan Esar

For more information on charitable giving and planned giving programs:

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Planned Giving Office:

For more information about Philanthropic Giving, the Donor Bill of Rights, and Model Standards of Practice for the Charitable Gift Planner:

The Association of Fundraising Professionals:

Partnership for Philanthropic Planning:

The Sharpe Group: