Millennial Donors Rising?
Posted October 1st, 2014

Millennial Donors Rising?


As of last year, millennials now outnumber any other generation, even baby boomers. What characterizes this generation, and what might their population growth mean for the nonprofit sector?

Move over, boomers. Millennials are now the most populous generation.

According to numerous sources, the millennial generation (encompassing those born between 1982 and 2004) are 80 million strong and now outnumber baby boomers. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2013 there were more Americans 22 years old than any other age. With numbers this strong, the millennial generation should have a growing impact on every aspect of American life for years to come, including the government, economy and nonprofit sector.

Echo boomers.

Growing numbers of the millennial generation are young adults who have recently started careers and are beginning to become donors in their own right.

The millennials’ transition into adulthood should make it easier for nonprofits to acquire younger donors, a welcome change after the relative dearth of prospective new donors from the smaller Generation X.

Formative experiences.

Every generation is affected by experiences in its formative years that tend to create certain common characteristics. As with Pearl Harbor for the silent and G.I. generations and the baby boomers’ exposure to the turmoil of the 1960s, this will certainly be true of the millennials. A number of studies of this generation reveal that the 9/11 attacks, which occurred for many millennials in their teenage years, played a pivotal role in their development. Subsequent events such as Hurricane Katrina and social and political debates over equality and the environment have produced adults with a highly developed social conscience and optimism about their country’s future.

The Pew Research Center recently published a study on this generation based on data compiled from numerous surveys conducted from 1990 to 2014. For purposes of the 2014 study, only millennials between the ages of 18 and 32 were surveyed.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Millennials are waiting longer to marry or are shying away from the institution of marriage entirely. Only 26 percent of millennials age 18 to 32 are married. When at the same age, 36 percent of Generation X, 48 percent of boomers and 65 percent of the silent generation were already married.
  • Millennials are more racially diverse than any other adult generation. Some 46 percent of millennials are other than Caucasian. This trend is likely to continue as roughly 50 percent of U.S. newborns today are non-Caucasian.
  • Millennials are more optimistic about America’s future than older generational cohorts. Roughly 49 percent of millennials believe the U.S.’s best days lie ahead, compared with 42 percent of Gen Xers, 44 percent of boomers and 39 percent of the silent generation.
  • Millennials are the best-educated generation in U.S. history. One-third of millennials age 26 to 33 have earned at least a four-year college degree.

The donor life cycle.

As this generation enters the early years of the traditional donor life cycle, it will be important to reach them in the right ways with the correct message. Use channels to engage and involve them in your mission now and you will potentially acquire donors for a lifetime.

As the first truly digital generation, this group is easily reached through online efforts. Recent surveys reveal that 75 percent of the adults of this generation maintain a profile on one or more social media sites, compared to just 30 percent of baby boomers and 6 percent of the silent generation, making social media sites a valid option for encouraging gifts from this cohort. The recent success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge sensation underscores the importance of social media in reaching this group.

Charitable gifts are made from disposable income and assets. For many members of this generation, those resources are scarce. At least in the near term, we may anticipate large numbers of smaller, regular gifts. Volunteering time will be the gift of choice for many. A small number may already be in high-income positions and/or have significant wealth and will be early prospects for larger outright gifts.

While they may be a good source of current smaller gifts, it will be many decades until millennials are traditional planned gift prospects. Some members of this group may decide to make a favorite charity the beneficiary of an employee life insurance policy or retirement plan, but most charitable organizations will not find it rewarding to devote significant resources to encouraging bequests or other long-term gifts from donors this young. Remember to use a generational approach in your planned giving efforts, focusing on age, income, wealth and economic factors.

A generational approach to fundraising.

Blackbaud’s 2013 study The Next Generation of American Giving provides helpful insights into which generations give the most to charity. Both the number of charities and the total amount given increase with age, with the oldest generations giving the most (see sidebar).

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.40.35 PMUnderstanding generational giving differences, developing appropriate appeal strategies, segmenting your file based on age, wealth and other factors and using multiple communication channels to reach targeted groups of donors will increase your fundraising effectiveness this year and well into the future.

In an age of limited budgets, take into account generational differences among your donors to help visualize and maximize your gift development efforts. This can be particularly important when planning critical fourth-quarter fundraising efforts.

With younger boomers, Generation X and millennials, consider maximizing involvement through the communication channels they prefer. Utilize a digital strategy including your website, e-campaigns, social media and online giving opportunities.

For baby boomers and matures, traditional print communications will continue to be a mainstay. You may want to include a brochure or special message on the importance of tax-wise planning in appeals this fall. Follow that up with a targeted communication to older baby boomers and matures during the final four to six weeks of the year.

Consider using a more personalized approach for your top donors and prospective donors, regardless of age. In many cases, this will be a relatively small number of persons who should receive a personal visit, phone call or personal correspondence.

The concepts in this article are drawn from the popular Sharpe seminar Integrating Major and Planned Gifts, which includes an examination of the ways different generations are most likely to make larger gifts. 

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