Sparking Ideas

The Next Generation of American Giving: A Summary

Walter Lukens, Founder and President

The latest study from Blackbaud is out and it focuses on the charitable giving habits of each generation – specifically Matures (born 1945 and earlier), Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and Generation Y (born 1981-1995).

This is one of the things I like most about Blackbaud. They support and fund very useful, high level thinking and The Next Generation of American Giving is one such effort that deserves your attention.

You can access the full report here, but the following are the key takeaways that impact our work together:

  • Matures are most likely to give to arts/cultural organizations (14%), followed by Generation X (7%), Boomers (6%), and Generation Y (4%). This is no surprise.
  • Engagement channels may not necessarily be transaction channels. For example, while there is little evidence that people donate through social media channels, there is growing evidence that social media plays a role in stewardship.  For instance, while I still want to use Facebook for transactions, it should not be viewed only as transactional but as a digital word of mouth vehicle that supports other channels.  It gets people in our target audience talking about your institution.
  • Channel by channel attribution is very difficult and often causes debates within organizations about who gets credit for which dollars. This is just one more example of why organizational “silos” are bad and why they need to slowly go the way of the dinosaur.
  • It’s no surprise that Generations X and Y primarily give online vs. postal mail. However, did you know that Boomers now give online (42%) just slightly more than they give via direct mail (40%)? This is a change since Blackbaud’s report in 2010.
  • 19% of Matures respond to a telemarketing solicitation, while only 6% of Generation Y donors and 7% of Generation X donors have given via telemarketing.

So what does all of this mean for your membership and fundraising programs? Well . . .

. . . looking at the landscape from 30,000 feet, we should all be very happy because there is a lot of  good news here!

First, Americans remain an incredibly generous and philanthropic people, regardless of generation. Just look at the high percentage of Gen X and Y that give in some way or another. 

In this country, being philanthropic is a learned behavior. We teach this to each successive generation of our children at home, in church and in school. This report suggests we continue to do a good job on passing on this important value.

Second, the paradigm of people donating more, joining more, getting involved more as they age remains intact. Once we get to a certain age, we become empty-nested, have higher levels of disposable income, have more time on our hands and begin to think about the legacy we are leaving our children.

One of the biggest debates among development and fundraising professionals is about whether or not future/younger generations going to give as much as current/older donors?

This report suggests that the answer is a resounding YES! 

And that’s spectacular news for all of us because as there are a huge number of baby boomers approaching the peak donation period in their lifecycle and they’re already very generous. According to the survey results boomers currently represent about 1/3 of all adult donors and contribute 43% of dollars donated.

Some of you have heard me use the vivid, albeit morbid, analogy of the rabbit in the mouth of a snake to suggest this seismic demographic shift. 

Well the Blackbaud report strongly suggests that the rabbit is fat. That the snake has only just begun to ingest its meal. And that the entire process could easily take the next 40 years and represent perhaps the largest wealth transfer in history.

So cheer up! And focus!

At 3,000 feet, we’ve got to remember that:

Multi-channel efforts are crucial now more than ever because all generations are active in each channel (donors may just have different preferences on which one they respond to).

Younger donors shouldn’t be ignored because they represent the future of our donor bases. Remember that younger supporters respond well to peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdsourcing.

It’s important for nonprofits to continue break down internal silos and share resources and data so that the goals of each department can be met.

While we would never recommend basing your acquisition, membership or fundraising strategies on the findings of any one report, this study does provide an important reminder that fundraisers must be aware of how age demographics can impact your efforts. Budgeting and strategy decisions should take your core donor base into consideration. And keep in mind that details like channel preference can shift in even just three years, as we saw with this recent update.

As always, feel free to call/email/write/text if you have thoughts or questions. 

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