generations giving philanthropy

Do you ever sit in your office and wonder how to target a Millennial as opposed to someone from Generation X or a Boomer? If you don’t, you should. Although every donor is unique, there are certain general patterns that you can learn about generations and apply to be more strategic.

We know that today’s donors are looking for more from their nonprofit partners. They want to see measurable results from organizations working on a social challenge. They distrust nonprofits more than they used to and require more transparency and data as proof. Donors today are looking for innovative solutions and they’re less inclined to care about excuses as to why something can’t be changed.

I outlined this information in my recent fundraising book, but I also wanted to take this opportunity to share it with you in this article because the information is so important:

Matures (1945 and earlier)

According to Blackbaud’s giving study[1], these donors represent 26 percent of the total donor population. They are the most generous group of donors with 88 percent of this generation giving to philanthropy or charity.

The average annual gift for Matures is $1,367 and they support 6.7 charities. This group of donors is probably the last cohort of donors where the majority of people do not have to fully understand the direct impact of their gifts. In other words, they are not that interested in return on investment. They are much more moved by emotion.

Although these donors are much more likely to respond to direct mail, according to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of people using the internet are 65 or older. So, digital marketing and fundraising can’t be dismissed for Matures because of their age. Remember, this is the Greatest Generation and they can do just about anything, even at an older age.

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)

The Boomers were born post-World War II. Boomers currently give 43 percent of all gifts to philanthropy. For the longest time, Boomers represented the largest living generational group according to the Pew Research Center. In 2015 that distinction went to the Millennials. Last year, 74.9 million people in the United States were Boomers as compared to 75.3 million who were Millennials.

According to a Merrill Lynch Wealth Management study, Boomers were 49 percent more likely than the generation before them to research how a nonprofit used its money before they donated. 44 percent want to direct how their money is used.

We know that most philanthropic money goes to religious organizations, but Boomers are the first generation where there is a decline in giving to these institutions. Yet, they are still more inclined to give to religious organizations than are Gen Xers or Millennials.

According to Blackbaud’s generational giving study, the Boomers represent 51 million donors in the United States, have an average annual gift of $1,212 and support 4.5 charities each. They also represent 21 percent of monthly donors, and this is an important fact to remember: They like giving monthly.

Generation X (1965 – 1980)

GenXers are in middle age. This group is sandwiched in between the Boomers and the Millennials, and marketers (and practically everyone else) often overlook them. That’s a shame because if you’re thinking only about Boomers and Millennials, you’re missing a good group of people who could be supporting your cause.

In the Blackbaud study, GenX represented 20 percent of the total donor population, or 39.5 million people. 59 percent of this group gives to social sector causes, and their average gift is $732 annually. They support 3.9 causes.

Gen Xers are more likely to support human rights and international causes. This group, as compared with Boomers, does not believe that only money can make the most difference in the world. They believe in spreading the word about a cause or volunteering, and 50 percent of GenXers have to see the impact their gift would make before they would support a cause.

Gen Xers are tech savvy and they like to engage with a social sector organization online, preferably on their mobile devices. 47 percent of this population follows nonprofits or causes on social media. Gen Xers are also the group likeliest to give more often.

Millennials / Generation Y (1981 – 1995)

We’ll be hearing about Millennials for decades to come, just as we did with the Boomers, simply because of its population size. As I mentioned previously, they are now the largest generational group living in the United States.

Referring back to the study, Millennials represent 11 percent of all donors, which translates to 32.8 million people. 60 percent of Millennials give to charitable causes and they give an average annual gift of $481. They support approximately 3.3 charities.

The majority of this group (84 percent) will give to a cause online. That is their preferred mode of donating. And, as with Gen X, Millennials will more than likely do their research or reading on a mobile device. This group is also the most multi-cultural and internationally thinking generation. They are also the most socially tolerant group.

It’s important to note that Boomers were affected by Vietnam. The shadow of 9/11, downward economic mobility and inequality are ingrained in the collective psyche of the Millennial generation. Millennials are far more likely than any other generation to demand transparency, accountability and fairness. Their demands are already being felt and they will only continue to change the philanthropic landscape as they get older. Millennials are also more likely to blend shopping with supporting a good cause.

As I mentioned in the book, development and fundraising are about building relationships with your donors. The better you understand your donors, the better relationships you can build.


Wayne is the author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to DOMINATE YOUR Fundraising to Create YOUR Success” (Free Digital Download)

© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generations Y, X, Baby Boomers and Matures,” Blackbaud,