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.

A Garden of Generosity

Another in the Creating a Giving Culture, One Story at a Time series….

ANN’S GARDEN:    A Story of Generosity by Frankie Price-Stern*

My husband and I moved to Chapel Hill in 1994 and immediately started attending Community Church.  It was not long before I met Ann.

My early time in Chapel Hill was very difficult and Ann became a wonderful and supportive friend in so many ways.  Along the way she introduced me to the church financial work she did, then pushed me into church financial leadership, and finally five years later nominated me for Board Chair.  This was my start in the stewardship ministry that has become a large part of my life today.

I have discovered at least one Ann in most of my client congregations. Many of them are older like Ann with an abundance of white hair.  Whatever their age their eyes have stayed young – eyes that almost always sparkle with the optimism, acceptance and hope that are so much a part of our faith.  When I met her Ann may have been sixty-five years old on the outside but it seemed through her eyes you could still see her as she was at seventeen.

Ann had a garden.  She and her husband had moved into their house thirty years earlier and they had raised their family there.  When she first moved to Chapel Hill Ann had set one rule for her garden.  She would never buy a plant.  Instead she decided to ask each of the new friends as she got to know them for a gift of a plant from their garden for her garden. As she accepted gifts from friends she would plant them where she thought best, and  continued to move them around until she found just the spot where a plant would flourish, thrive and make its best contribution to the beauty of the garden.  Rule two came soon after her garden started filling in – if you gave her gift of a plant from your garden, she would insist that you accept a gift from hers.

As you can imagine after thirty years Ann’s garden was wonderful – full of all sorts of unique wonders to discover.  For her friends had most often shared their favorite and special plants with her.

Ann became ill in 2001.  On a beautiful spring afternoon my husband and I decided to go over to Ann’s house and give a little back for all that her friendship had given us.  We started to weed her garden.  After a while Ann came out and we together slowly walked around for forty-five minutes.  She told us about each plant.  She told us the story of many friends who were still here, friends that had moved and friends that had passed.  She told us of some plants’ journeys around her garden until they arrived at their final spot.  And sometimes she told us how she had selected just the right plant to give to a new friend when they gave her their plant.  On a beautiful spring day Ann told us the story of her life through her garden, her friends, the gifts they had given each other, and the care she had taken with every plant she received.  Once again as often happened, we had tried to give Ann a gift, and had received so much more from her.                 

Maybe Ann suspected that day would be one of our last visits, but less than a week later she died unexpectedly.  There were 350 people at her memorial service – our church membership was only 275 at that time.  A year later we held a memorial ceremony after church.  Everyone was asked to bring a plant from their garden.  We went back to Memorial Rock where Ann’s ashes were scattered and planted them. And I am absolutely sure, liked mine, at least a few of the plants that today flourish in our memorial garden have grown from cuttings from plants that had grown from cuttings from Ann’s garden.

*Frankie Price Stern ( has been an active UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, UUA Compensation Consultant, and lay leader at the Community Church Unitarian Universalist in Chapel Hill, NC for many years.  Frankie also serves as a board member for the North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center (, an organization near and dear to her heart.                                                            Frankie adds this note to her story:  “I am hoping people get from the story that stewardship is a lifelong strategy full of joy, not a dreaded once a year response to being asked to give.”

For more information about the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Services program:

Resources for Congregational Memorial Gardens

Many congregations design and create beautiful memorial gardens as part of their planned giving programs:                                    

Memorial Gardens for Unitarian Universalists are found at many congregations and conference sites:

Google Search “Memorial Gardens Unitarian Universalist” (or any other faith organization or denomination) and you will find myriad links.

Amherst, NY:

Star Island:  (contact Angela Matthews, Director of Development,

Ferry Beach Association:

Virtual Memorial Garden at Davies Memorial UU Church:

Sample Memorial Garden Policies:

Click to access memGardenPolicy.pdf

Resources for Memorial Services and Life Celebration Rituals:

Searl, Edward.  In Memoriam, 2nd Edition.  Skinner House Books.  2000.

York, Sarah.  Remembering Well.  Jossey-Bass. 2000.

Worship Web

The Offering–A Central Act of Worship in Community

The offering has been the central act of worship for human beings since ancient times. In the earliest times, sacrificial offerings of the best livestock or first fruits of the crop were ceremonially given to the gods. In modern times, money is placed in the offering plate during Sunday morning service to support the work of the faith community. Throughout time the offering has been a means by which individuals and families may contribute some of what they have to benefit their whole community. Making an offering is considered a central act of faith: faith in the community, faith is something greater than oneself, and a tangible expression of gratitude for all received in life. In its deepest and purest expression, the act of giving motivated by gratitude, is a deeply spiritual practice.

Over time, this practice of the offering has been institutionalized by religions around the world. The concepts and practices are explicitly taught in many religions. In her book Giving—the Sacred Art, Lauren Tyler Wright refers to the practice of giving that each faith tradition brings to the “table of generosity.” She continues by describing the language and expressions of giving to religion:

Each tradition brings to the table a beautiful history of sacred texts, stories, and experiences, and each faith contributes to the intricate landscape of religious giving with a beautiful assortment of expressions: stewardship, almsgiving zakat (alms tax), sadaqah (voluntary charity), dana (charity), charity, Chesed (loving kindness), Tzedakah (righteous giving), tikkun olam (repairing the world). As I write, I imagine this wide variety of religious perspectives engaging in dialogue, not debate. While we may disagree on a host of ideologies, we can all sit around the table of generosity and share our understandings of this common practice. And in doing so, I have a feeling we will discover that our spiritual journeys are more alike than we may have thought.

Though religion continues to be the beneficiary of the largest share of charitable giving, it is losing some ground as giving increases to other charitable organizations. Once the recipient of 60 percent of all charitable giving, for the first time in recorded history, giving to religion has dropped to just under 33 percent. It appears that the competition for charitable dollars is heating up and religious leaders and consultants are asking, why? What makes the difference for people in choosing where to give?

Church fundraising consultant and former parish minister, J. Clif Christopher, is convinced that religious organizations must develop appropriate fundraising strategies using current methods in order to keep pace with their missions and financial needs. These strategies and methods will need to include greater involvement by the minister and board leaders in active fundraising and teaching of stewardship. More analysis must take place for each congregation to better know and understand its donors, their patterns of giving, and their capacity for giving.

Finally, it is essential that religious leaders know how to effectively ask for contributions and to communicate with and recognize donors.

According to Christopher and others, the three primary reasons people give are:   

1) Belief in the mission of the organization,

2) Regard for the staff leadership of the organization, and

3) Fiscal responsibility.

In addition, people clearly want to make a difference in the world, to change lives for the better, to leave a legacy that reflects their desire to leave such a mark of accomplishment.

Faith communities today have a big job to do—to change lives. We must focus on the task of changing lives and making a difference in the world, beyond the doors of the congregation. This level of change cannot be accomplished by busying our members with committee work and social activities, then telling them there is not enough funding and more money is needed to keep it all going.

What fundraising and stewardship strategy will your congregation need to fulfill the task of  changing peoples’ lives      and making a difference in the world?

You are invited to participate in this Giving Speaks poll about giving away and sharing offering plate collections:


Christopher, J. Clif.  Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.  2008. Abingdon Press.

Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate Study Guide for congregation leaders:

Smith, Christian, Emerson, Michael O., with Snell, Patricia.  Passing the Plate. 2008.  Oxford University Press.

Wright, Lauren Tyler.  Giving–the sacred art.  2008.  Skylight Paths Publishing.

UU Study Guide for Giving–the sacred art.  2011.  Laurel Amabile.  Free download: