Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

By Duke Haddad, Ed.D

You can read about generational giving but can understand it only if you lived it. When you have had a lengthy career in the fundraising field, you see generational giving at work.

A man who started giving to my organization created a family foundation and placed his son in charge. Over time, I established a relationship with him and his son. All of the generations have supported my organization.

I had another elderly donor who created a foundation, but sadly, I could not create a relationship with the son, who preferred to spend funds on having fun rather than helping society. The elderly donor told me to wait for his grandson, who was just like him with respect to philanthropy and liked our organization.

In another instance, there was an older donor, who was a board chair and volunteer, and loved my organization. His son certainly loved philanthropy but had different philanthropic organizations and causes to support. I tried to engage him without success.

These experiences taught me to understand how each generation thinks, acts and views philanthropy through various lenses.


Generational Donor Trends

Different generations have distinct cultures, values and thoughts concerning the concept of philanthropy. It is imperative that nonprofits create strategies and approaches to prospects through knowledge of generational philanthropy. The five generations that are alive today include matures (before 1946), baby boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), millennials (1981-1995) and Gen Z (after 1995). Gaining understanding of different generational traits is critical because organizations need to know how people of certain ages give and through what mode they typically support charities. Because boomers and matures are the biggest groups of donors to philanthropy, it makes the average donor age 75.

Boomers contribute 43% of all donations, but here’s a look at an average donor for the oldest four giving generations:

Matures, or traditionalists, represent 27 million donors in the United States, giving $1,367 annually, on average. They are loyal to causes as they tend to support more than six charities.

Baby boomers represent 51 million donors, with a $1,212 average gift and loyalty to five charities each. They are perceived as long hair wearing activists.

Generation X represents 40 million donors in the U.S. with an average annual gift of $732. They support four charities and lead their generational counterparts in annual volunteer hours served.

Millennials represent 33 million annual donors, have a $481 annual gift and contribute to three charities annually. They are more interested in causes than institutions.


Generational Influences

Please note, by 2061, Generation X and millennials will inherit $59 trillion in wealth from their aging baby boomer parents. This new philanthropic power will make them the most significant donors in the history of philanthropy. The next generation of donors, entitled “next gen,” will give to philanthropy based upon impact and results. Generation X donors will give to organizations when they fully trust the sponsor’s philanthropy. Millennials are typically highly educated and emotional about the causes they support. You will notice that no generation is alike when it comes to philanthropy.

Different generations of donors are influenced by a variety of motivations and preferences for giving. Donors within the mature generation give to causes they have seen or by which they have been personally touched. They support areas such as religion and emergency relief efforts. Before donating, baby boomers want to know the organizational finance structure, organizational mission and its ability for lasting change. They typically give to religion and social services.

Generation X donors lean toward specific missions and causes that appeal to them. They like to give to religion and children charities. Millennials relate to causes and success obtained collectively as a group. They tend to support children’s causes and human rights movements. Generation Z is interested in social causes plus data driven resulting in a better world.

Take the time to study your prospects and donors. Understand their age, life experiences and what makes them tick. Seek to find out how they feel about money, life and making a difference for others. Besides giving, determine if they volunteer and serve in organizational leadership roles.

Do your homework prior to a solicitation call. Anticipate responses based upon the generation you are engaging. Do not assume because you have dealt with one generation of a family, that the next generation will react and support in the same manner. You will be sadly mistaken.

Understand generational giving, and your success as a fundraising professional will dramatically increase.