Boosting Donor Engagement: The Generational Gap

A successful nonprofit is built by many hands. Some are younger and stronger, while others are more weathered and experienced. Without different generations of donors, an organization can’t secure and sustain its future. Knowing how to identify and engage each generation can be the difference between struggle and success. There are a few things you…

A successful nonprofit is built by many hands. Some are younger and stronger, while others are more weathered and experienced. Without different generations of donors, an organization can’t secure and sustain its future. Knowing how to identify and engage each generation can be the difference between struggle and success. There are a few things you want to ask yourself when targeting and approaching each audience. First, what about your organization is going to appeal to them? Second, what is going to motivate them to take action? Finally, what kind of media platform is going to work best for each generation and target audience? Each generation will have distinct and sometimes overlapping needs and motivations. While this may seem like a lot of work to target each group, it will pay off in the long haul. So which generations give the most time and money, what do they bring to the table, and how can you market to them?

Millennials (born 1980 – 2000)

Starting with the current and youngest generation of donors, let’s take a look at Millennials. Many would think that being from a younger generation, you shouldn’t count on this age group for volunteer efforts or funding, but you would be wrong! Millennial donors are 11% of total giving in the US, and 85% report giving to charity! Seeing that they are the largest generation currently, these numbers will continue to grow as they mature. At their age, Millennial donors are not the wealthiest generation, as they are typically still dealing with college debt, entry level jobs, and age-related expenses like buying their first home. But don’t count them out based on these financial factors. This generation is important to the success of your organization for many reasons. Age can be to your advantage here, especially if you are an organization looking for volunteers to help with physically demanding tasks.

Millennials are often motivated by emotional factors and passion for a cause, not just the organization itself. They are the top supporters of human rights and international development, child development, and victims of crime/abuse. Use this to appeal to them on an emotional level. How do you find and approach them to do that? Typically, a mobile approach is best!

Millennials are the most active generation on social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are a great way to recruit, advertise, and share your mission with them! Social response is key with millennials. Not only social media, but the social aspect of volunteer opportunities and events, as well as social networking and interacting with their peers in the community. They will likely be the best source for sharing what you do, by posting on their own media channels. This sharing connects your organization to a larger network you would have missed out on without their involvement.


Gen X (born 1965 – 1979)

Behind our millennial donors are Generation X. The largest number of volunteers of any generation, Gen X contributes 20% of total giving in the US, and 59% give to charity. As a nonprofit with volunteers, you should note that Gen X volunteers are twice as likely to donate to a charity or organization they volunteer for, and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to reach out to former or current donors for volunteer work, as many of them will gladly contribute in more than a financial way! They make good physical volunteers and also do well in managerial positions for fundraising and as mentors.

Gen X donors are top supporters of health services, animal rights and welfare, and environmental protection organizations. Because they often have families and work obligations, a Gen X volunteer may be more likely to accept a role or task where the whole family can get involved. Similar to millennials, they are most interested in the social impact of their donation or volunteering. They are the second most tech savvy generation, so a mixed media approach is suggested to engage them. Social media, email subscriptions, and text updates can be a great way to involve Generation X, but print is not dead! Mail response is surprisingly high from this generation and later!


Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

As the parents and grandparents of the former generations, Baby Boomers have advantages as potential donors. First and foremost, they are the most financially secure of any of the current generations. More than 75% of Baby Boomers give to charity, and they account for 43% of total giving in the US. They are also the most generous in their donation amounts made annually, making them the generation with the highest percentage of High Wealth Donors. Securing the support of this financially secure generation comes with a fair share of work for the nonprofit, so be prepared. Half of Baby Boomers want to know about a nonprofit’s finances before they donate, so be sure your accounting information is up-to-date and accessible. While Boomers want to be able to easily access information on an organization through a user-friendly website, they also put a lot of value in face-to-face interaction. And while it’s easy to assume that Baby Boomers would prefer printed advertising, they spend on average 27 hours per week online and 82% belong to at least one social media network. While they are most likely to respond to email, voicemails, and direct mail, they have adapted to the times and are still able to be reached online. Just like with Gen X, Baby Boomers are more likely to offer volunteer hours for organizations they already support financially. This generation is full of people that have likely risen to a leadership position within their workplace, with mature skills that can benefit your nonprofit. As they near retirement age, they may also have more time to spend giving back, as they strongly support community organizations and local charities.


The Greatest Generation/Matures (born 1945 and earlier)

The oldest generation still has something to teach us all. Mature donors may not give as much in total giving, but 88% donate to charity. That generosity should not be taken lightly. As Matures age, they tend to conserve finances but retain the ambition to give back and serve their communities. Mature donors are the highest percentage of volunteers and donors for community and religious based organizations, which account for a third of all nonprofit organizations. Their time spent in their communities and the respect they have earned along the way can greatly benefit you! Think about all the untapped leadership skill potential they hold from years of work. At this point in their life a mature donor has built up a huge network that can come in handy by helping with community outreach when it’s time to market your fundraiser. Furthermore, while they may not be at peak condition for physically demanding volunteer work, they can fulfill organizational roles that require more hours than others can give.

Time spent in the community and respect earned can go a long way. Looking to find Mature generation donors? Mailers and direct-to-donor marketing will be the connection you need.


Closing the Gap

How are you reaching your audience? As we’ve learned, social media and an online presence is crucial for your nonprofit organization. And while print is not the primary source of marketing nowadays, it is certainly still alive and well, particularly for mature generations. Need help developing a strategy for generational engagement? Let our team set up a strategy session so we can find the best fit for your nonprofit. Contact Redbird Strategic Resources today at  by email or by phone at 865-212-4867.