Elizabeth Chung
6 min
How to Engage Different Generations of Donors

How to Engage Different Generations of Donors

Not all generations are created equal. Having grown up during different times of communication and technological advancements, each generation of donors has cultivated unique ways to connect to causes they’re passionate about. Younger, tech-savvy donors embrace mobile and social giving trends, while seniors still give heavily through direct mail. At the same time, the rapid speed at which people adopt new technologies is driving nonprofits to build a multichannel strategy to engage all groups of donors.

Below are breakdowns of four generations of supporters, along with ideas to help you engage each one.

Millennials (born 1981-1995)

Organizations of all sizes and missions need a strategy to engage members of Generation Y, also known as Millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial generation is set to become the country’s largest living generation in 2015, outpacing the entire Baby Boomer population. While these young supporters may not have as large of a giving capacity as older generations, the Giving USA 2014 report finds that the majority of Millennials (about 60 percent) donate to charitable organizations. And with Generation X and Y set to inherit $40 trillion in the near future, more and more nonprofits are realizing how critical it is to start drawing these young donors into their mission now.

Make Sure Your Communications are Mobile-Optimized

It’s no shocker that Millennials want to engage with nonprofits online. According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, 84 percent of surveyed Millennials donated or want to donate to a nonprofit via an online website. When beefing up your online giving experience though, you need to make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Eighty percent of Millennials report using their phones to read articles and emails from nonprofits. Eighty percent also like it best when nonprofit websites are mobile-optimized.

The best way to keep Millennials engaged is to use responsive design. This allows emails, websites, and donation pages to format properly across mobile devices.

Harness the Power of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Millennials stay ultra connected to their peers, having grown up in an age saturated by social media and technology. This is why peer-to-peer fundraising is highly popular with this generation of donors.

According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, nearly 70 percent of surveyed Millennials are willing to fundraise for an organization they’re passionate about. That means your peer-to-peer campaign has the potential to activate a vast majority of young fundraisers, who can then tap their own networks for support. In fact, 64 percent of respondents raise money for walk/run/cycling events, and nearly half (46 percent) prefer asking people to replace physical birthday gifts with a donation to a specific nonprofit.

This last statistic underscores the personalization options Millennials want from their fundraising and giving experience—options that are made possible through a year-round peer-to-peer fundraising program. By adding this permanent fundraising option to your website, you allow supporters to use their birthdays, anniversaries, athletic milestones, or other life events to fundraise for your cause.

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

According to the 2013 study “The Next Generation of American Giving,” this generation represents 20 percent of total giving in the U.S. Compared to Millennials, more established Gen X donors are likelier to make a monetary gift to support a cause. They also give more frequently than other age groups.

This tech-savvy generation values donating and connecting with nonprofits online, especially through mobile devices. According to the 2013 study, nearly half (47 percent) of Gen X donors indicated they would consider donating through their mobile device. Social media is also an important engagement channel, with 47 percent of Gen X respondents following a nonprofit on social media. It’s up to your nonprofit to establish relationships with these donors, build trust, and give them opportunities to act on behalf of your cause.

Build Trust through Transparency

In order to win the support of younger generations, transparency needs to be one of your organization’s top values. Half of Gen X respondents (and 60 percent of Millennials) say that their decision to donate hinges greatly on whether they can see their gift’s impact.

Make sure your website details exactly where donations will go. Translate dollar amounts into tangible results, and provide proof (through visual content like photos and videos) of your work being carried out on the ground. Providing this essential information up front can help you build trust and win over these discerning donors.

Engage Donors In the Workplace

Younger donors also tend to partake in workplace philanthropy. According to “The Next Generation of American Giving” study, 53 percent of Generation X respondents have given in their workplace. Both Gen X and Gen Y donors are also four to five times more likely to participate in corporately sponsored fundraisers like walks, runs, or cycling events. Tap into these pools of support by collaborating with corporate sponsors.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby Boomers represent the top source of income for nonprofits. They sum up 34 percent of the nation’s annual donor base, but they contribute 43 percent of all gifts made by individuals. While they still engage with nonprofits through direct mail, their online giving and social media use continues to spike. The study found that more Boomer donors now give online (42 percent) than via direct mail (40 percent), a switch from 2010 when more Boomers gave through mail. With 77 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 using the Internet, this trend is likely to climb upward.

Encourage Monthly Giving

In addition to ramping up your online fundraising, a great way to draw in Boomer donors is to promote your recurring giving program. “The Next Generation of American Giving” study found that the Boomer generation makes up the largest share (21 percent) of monthly donors.

There’s a good chance your Boomer donors forged a connection with your nonprofit in earlier years, and they’ve been loyal supporters since. Reach out to the donors who’ve regularly supported you, and ask them to join your special group of monthly donors. Emphasize that automated monthly giving is an easy way to support the programs they care about.

Empower Fundraisers with Tools and Resources

Millennials and Gen X donors aren’t the only ones who can fundraise. Other generations, like your Baby Boomers or Matures, can fundraise just as effectively as their younger counterparts. As with all supporters, they just need to be given the right tools, resources, and encouragement to get started. Reach out to these groups and provide the materials they need, whether it’s email templates, sample social media copy, or help in setting up their personal fundraising pages.

By empowering these donors to fundraise over the Internet and social media, you can actually guide them to the channels where their younger family members and friends might be active. Your older donor base can thus attract the younger generations to your organization.

Matures (born 1945 or earlier)

This age bracket represents 26 percent of overall giving. Out of your entire donor pool, Mature donors rely the most on direct mail to support and engage with the causes they care about. The study reports from the years 2011 and 2013, 52 percent of this age group donated through mail, compared to 27 percent who gave online. However, this doesn’t mean that these supporters aren’t capable of becoming solid members of your online fundraising community. According to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of adult Internet users go online once a day. Seventy percent of adults aged 65 and older go online on an average day.

Include These Donors in Your Multi-Channel Outreach

Direct mail may be a tried and true communication channel for these donors, but make sure to build a broader, multichannel strategy that includes these supporters. These older donors still go online, and increasing your touch points through an online presence can keep your organization top of mind.

And as the Pew Research Center statistics show, don’t underestimate these donors when it comes to technology. No matter what age, donors can become active members of your online community when given the right tools and resources.

At the end of the day, a multichannel communication strategy helps ensure you reach and engage all generations of supporters. Amplifying your online strategy, in particular, is key to strengthening connections across age brackets. Spend the time and effort to optimize your digital communications and tactics, and you’ll be able to deepen relationships not just for support today, but for future giving among younger supporters.

Read next! MYTH: Online Fundraising is Only for the Young

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  • Great information! This impacts so much with nonprofits and I don’t know that we pay enough attention to the separate age groups. I’ll be saving this and sharing it with others. Thanks!

    • Elizabeth Chung

      Thank you so much for reading, Steph! Happy it was helpful!


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