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3 Myths About Generational Giving (and What They Mean for You)

9 min read
October 03, 2021
Tim Sarrantonio
generational giving

Does the “generation gap” really show up in generational giving patterns? Are members of different generations really that different from each other?

The answer is “Sort of.” 

Yes, there are differences between how each generation views philanthropy, how they prefer to communicate with their favorite nonprofits, and how they tend to give. But generational giving trends reveal we’re not all so different after all.

Here are some common myths about generational giving patterns and some pointers for connecting with supporters of all ages.

Generational Giving Myth #1: Baby Boomers Give the Most, So They Should Get the Most Attention

Okay, this one is partially true. According to a report from Giving USA, Baby Boomer donors give the largest gifts to charity. In 2016, they gave an average of $2,921 in donations every year. In 2022, that dropped slightly to $2,568.

But that doesn’t mean other generations aren’t valuable! Millennials are the second most generous generation, and Gen X is right behind them.

In 2016, Millennials gave around $942 in donations. In 2022, that jumped to $1,323. Gen X donors gave $1,265 in 2016 and $1,220 in 2022. Gen Z is poised to make a big impact on their favorite causes, too: In 2022, the youngest group of active donors gave an average of $747.

As Baby Boomer donors retire and, eventually, transfer wealth to their heirs, nonprofits will rely on younger generations. Now is the opportune time to build relationships with those up-and-coming donors. Don’t just focus on established supporters—the other generations may not have the purchasing power held by Boomers, but they’ll be important down the line.

This photo shows several generations of a family. There are 12 people of all ages in the photo, and all of them are gathered together in front of their home.
Yes, Baby Boomer donors currently donate the most to nonprofits. But donors from other generations aren’t far behind—and they’ll become increasingly important over time.

Generational Giving Myth #2: Younger Donors Do Everything Online, So They Don’t Want Direct Mail

Online donations are becoming more common, but they still only make up a fraction of all charitable gifts. According to the Blackbaud Institute, online gifts accounted for 12% of total fundraising in 2021—it’s not something you should ignore! 

The popularity of online donations, though, doesn’t negate how valuable direct mail is. According to this roundup of nonprofit fundraising stats, Baby Boomer donors will frequently make an online donation as a result of receiving a direct mail appeal. Millennials do, too! As a matter of fact, Millennials are more likely to give after receiving an appeal in the mail than any other generation.

Why is direct mail still so effective after all these years, especially with young donors who otherwise prefer digital interactions? Because it’s one of the most personalized methods of communicating with their favorite nonprofits.

The average person receives hundreds of emails every day. They see hundreds more digital ads and social media posts. Sending donors—regardless of their age—direct mail appeals, updates, and thank-yous will make it easier for you to reach them through the digital noise.

Generational Giving Myth #3: Segmenting by Generation Is the Most Effective Way to Speak to Different Donor Groups

Generally speaking, people from different generations do have different preferred methods of communication. It may sound wise to segment your audience based on these facts. In reality, it’s time-consuming, and doesn’t yield the highest possible return. 

Donors from all generations want similar things from your communications, like:

  • The feeling that you appreciate them as individuals
  • Relevant appeals, updates, and information
  • Information that makes them feel personally connected to your mission (and even your staff)

You can give them what they want!

Instead of segmenting your donors by age, take a different approach. Segment your audience by the way they give and their history with your organization, instead. By creating communications for different groups (like one-time and recurring donors, major donors, lapsed supporters, etc.), you can send personalized communications that will deepen their relationship with your organization.

Start with acknowledging constituents by name and mentioning when and how much they gave. Then, share a bit about how that money is used and what it achieves. It’s a lot of information to keep track of, especially as you create even more specific segments. This is where a comprehensive donor database that tracks these specific pieces of donor information can come in.

Yes, research has shown that there are definitely differences in generational giving and communication preferences. But the differences aren’t as stark as you might think. If you’re trying to figure out how to segment your constituents for higher returns, we wouldn’t advise segmenting by generation. 

Instead, focus on identifying those who have given before and nurture them into repeating the action. It’s a proven, effective way to engage your audience.

Why Do These Generational Giving Myths Persist?

As the numbers show, the facts behind stereotypical generational giving perceptions (“Baby Boomers only give via check! Millennials and Gen Z only want Instagram posts!”) don’t line up with these myths. Those coveted Millennial donors that have been the subject of so many nonprofit think-pieces are actually donating on par with older generations. Younger generations and older ones have similar desires and motivations.

These myths persist for a simple reason: The generations are different. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z have different preferences, ideals, communication styles, slang, and other behaviors. 

But ultimately, each generation wants similar things from the nonprofits they support. They want to give to a cause they care about. They want their donations to make an impact. They want to understand what that impact is. And they want to feel like they’re a part of a community that’s making a difference in the world.

3 Ways to Appeal to Donors of All Generations

The generational giving divide may not be as wide as we thought. So how can fundraisers appeal to donors of all ages?

These three strategies will get you started as you work to engage your donors regardless of their age.

1. Run Multi-Channel Campaigns

All generations consume media in many different ways. If you only communicate with your donors on one or two channels, you miss out on opportunities to engage your supporters.

The solution is to run a multi-channel campaign. If you’re not familiar with the term, it simply means that you use a variety of outlets to communicate with your community of supporters. These campaigns include touch points across several channels, from email to direct mail to social media to in-person interactions. You can appeal to donors from all generations regardless of their preferences.

Running this type of campaign has a ton of benefits, but there are two notable advantages. The first is that you’re more likely to get your messaging in front of your audience. Your donors may accidentally miss your direct mail appeal, but they’ll probably see you on social media or open an email. They miss an email but could see you in their mailbox or on Facebook. More channels mean more opportunities for people to see you.

The other is that a multi-channel campaign makes your messaging more memorable. Seeing your appeal once is a blip on their radar. Seeing your appeal multiple times in their mailbox, email inbox, and social media campaigns will stick in their heads!

2. Focus On Segmentation

To help create more effective fundraising campaigns, think of your donors in (at least) three basic segments: One-time donors, recurring donors, and major donors. Regardless of what generation they’re in, these groups are fundamentally different audiences who have different engagement needs.

In general, segmenting donors by action (like one-time vs. recurring donors or major donors vs. small-dollar donors) will help you build better supporter relationships than segmenting by demographics like age.

Generational giving trends are less important than sending personalized emails using audience segments like the one shown in this screenshot of the Neon CRM interface.
A solid donor segmentation plan will make it possible for you to send timely, relevant content to different groups of donors. This audience segment created in Neon CRM, for example, includes major donors. Someone at this organization could send targeted emails to this group or even exclude them from messages that aren’t suited to their preferences.

3. Give Your Donors What They Want

No matter what strategies or channels you use to engage donors, remember to keep your efforts focused on giving your donors what they want—the ability to make an impact by supporting a cause they love.

You might have a Gen Z donor who prefers print mailings and a silent generation donor who only wants to be contacted via email. If all of your print mailings and emails focus on strengthening the connection between the donor and their impact, you’ll be more successful.

Generational Giving Trends Are Important …

… But they’re not the most important.

Generational giving statistics can help you anticipate what your donors want. But listening to your donors, understanding their behaviors, and focusing on personalized engagement are more important. 

Remember: Your donors—regardless of age—have already proven that they care about your work. That is true regardless of their age. Instead of worrying about creating communication and fundraising strategies based wholly on generational giving trends, focus more on using multiple channels to send personalized communications that are relevant to your supporters.

Connect With Your Donors Using Neon CRM

Understanding your donors and connecting with them through personalized messaging is easier when you have the right tools. Neon CRM can make it happen!

Reporting tools, segmentation options, automated workflows, and other intuitive features make it easy for you to build deep relationships with your supporters. See for yourself! Our regular group demos give you an inside look at how Neon CRM can work for you—without the pressure of a sales call. Here’s where you can join one!

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