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Engaging Each Generation

Different demographic groups give differently and at different levels, respond to different messages and use different channels to make their gifts.  

The Silent Generation—those born before 1945—are the most religious, with 89% aligning themselves with a particular religion.¹  As most of them are retired, they are a rich source of estate gifts and ongoing contributions. More than three-quarters of them give to charity and they give more per capita ($1,235)² than any other generation.  

Boomers, those born 1945-1964, are responsible for 41% of charitable donations, with average annual contributions topping $1,000. They are more likely than younger generations to be religious but still less likely than The Silent Generation.²  Because they are the generation now retiring, they may have more disposable time to volunteer. Nearly three-quarters of Boomers support charitable causes, and as the average donor sits squarely in the Boomer generation, this cohort is likely to dominate giving for a few more years.  

As the oldest generation still entirely in the workforce, Gen Xers (born 1965-1980) are in their prime earning years. They have become the second largest donor cohort, though the Silent Generation gives more per capita. They are the most likely to fundraise on behalf of an organization, and a little more than half of Gen Xers contribute financially to charity.¹ 

Only 42% of Millennials (born 1981-1996) attend church or other faith services and about half make a financial contribution to charity.¹ They are most likely to support work-sponsored initiatives, text to donate and watch videos before deciding to give.² Still building their careers, this generation is not yet a charitable force to be reckoned with, but its time is coming.  

Generation Z (born 1997 or later) is now entering the workforce and can be incredibly powerful when they decide to raise money by influencing others through digital technologies. When they eventually become a force in philanthropic giving, their giving behavior may reflect their distinctive racial and ethnic diversity, their status as digital natives, and their social cohesiveness. Time will tell.  

Some small differences in giving priorities among generations do exist. The older you are, the more likely you are to prioritize emergency relief. The inverse is true of children’s charities. Gen X and Gen Z are disproportionately committed to animal-related causes. Also, the older you are, the more likely you are to prioritize monetary contributions as making the biggest difference. The three youngest generations choose volunteering as their contribution of choice. Gen Z also values spreading the word and advocacy.² 

When analyzing donation channels that reach the various generations, the results are what you might expect: Older donors prefer direct mail and online giving while younger generations are more comfortable with giving through social media and text messaging. Gen Z is also 16 times more amenable than the Silent Generation to give to a street canvasser.² 

All these generations can be engaged inside your faith community by focusing on their interests. Gen Z want to know where faith fits into their lives and can be engaged in service and social justice. Millennials are the loneliest generation because they are glued to their phones and need faith to fill the void. Offer them opportunities to be part of a community that is larger than themselves and engage them with the personal connections that technology can’t give them. Gen Xers are juggling mid-life issues and Boomers are the powerhouse donors to faith communities. The oldest generation are about legacy gifts and may be looking at their faith community as a place where their strength has been rooted.