Generational Differences Impact Giving

Generational Differences Impact Giving as Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y Engage Through More Channels than their Mature Counterparts

The results of a first-of-its-kind national research study into the charitable giving behaviors and attitudes across Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers and Matures shows that the boomers and Gen X are more spontaneous, influenced by peers, and use multiple channels when giving to charities. Prepared by Convio, Edge Research and Sea Change Strategies the study was designed to learn how different generations learn about, engage with and donate to charitable organizations.

The key findings include:

  • Emergence of Gen X and Boomers: More than 60 percent of the potential donor universe consists of Gen X (age 30-45) and Boomer donors (age 46-64).
  • Multichannel: For the next generation of donors (Boomers and Gen X), no single channel tends to dominate as both groups tend to donate across multiple channels: checkout donations (at a retailer) – Boomers 52%, Gen X 57%; check by mail – Boomers 54%, Gen X 43%; gift shop/ecommerce – Boomers 32%, Gen X 35%; Website – Boomers 31%, Gen X 35%; fundraising event – Boomers 28%, Gen X 28%; honor/tribute/memorial – Boomers 27%, Gen X 27%; monthly debit – Boomers 14%, Gen X 17%.
  • Spontaneous donations differentiate: A donation at checkout is the predominant way donors across all the age groups tend to donate to organizations (accounts for 52% of donations across all the age groups). Matures report that they have well-established commitments to charities, actively budget for their giving, and are reluctant to add new charities to those they support. For the next generation donors, Boomers and Gen X, giving is more spontaneous and based on who asks them to donate.
  • Role of direct mail declines: The traditional check by mail is still the predominant way Matures (Age 65+) donate (at 77%), but this form of donation drops off steadily as the age decreases; only 54 percent of Boomers, 43 percent of Gen X and 26 percent of Gen Y report giving through the channel.
  • Social and Mobile: Social media (Mobile/Texting and Social networking) is starting to play a far more prominent role with the younger generation. These are channels that were practically nonexistent five years ago and are growing in importance to the Gen X and Gen Y donor. Mobile – Gen Y 14%, Gen X 13% (4% and 2% for Boomers and Matures respectively) report giving through the channel; Social media – Gen Y 9%, Gen X 6%, report giving through the channel; 69% of Gen Y and 60% of Gen X report that a posting or message from friends on Facebook or other social media is an appropriate solicitation channel compared to 38% Boomers and 17% of Matures.
  • Appeals by friends more influential than appeals from charity: Fifty-two percent (52%) of all donors ranked “friends asking for money” as a very appropriate channel to receive a charitable solicitation, out-pacing mail from charity at 41% and email from charity at 28% as very appropriate.

Gen X and Boomers Approach “Mature” Levels of Giving

The study also found that while Matures still account for more of the money given to charity each year, Boomers and Gen X now make-up nearly 60 percent of the donor population and report that they plan to give more in the future. Gen X is more likely to volunteer to organize an event, become participant fundraisers or help promote their favorite nonprofits via social media and their personal networks. While Boomers are more likely to support a friend or family member participating in a fundraising event such as a ride, walk or run.

Both Gen X and Boomers are beginning to approach Matures when it comes to their average estimated donations to charity and the number of charities they support:

  • Gen X (b.1965-1980): represents 39.53 million Americans; 52% give an average $796/year to 4.2 charities;
  • Boomers (b. 1946-1964): 45.17 million Americans; 66% give an average $901 to 5.2 charities;
  • Matures (b. 1945 or earlier): 25.41 million Americans; 77% give an average $1,066 to 6.3 charities.

“The majority of nonprofit marketing spend and tactics are focused on mature donors, as they remain the mainstay of today’s charitable giving,” said Pam Loeb, Principal for Edge Research who conducted the study. “With changes in technology, the economy, and demographic make-up of donors, nonprofit organizations are trying to cut through the clutter and make the right investments for their future success. The study shows we are living in an increasingly multi-channel world. Marrying traditional channels with emerging ones will have a lasting benefit as organizations attract and inspire the next generation of donors.”

While fundraisers have known both anecdotally and intuitively that the world of fundraising is changing, this insight helps shed light on how organizations  might shift their fundraising spend to continue to support direct mail success, while also preparing to better engage with donors in the future.

The full study is available at