Engaging Multi-Generational Donors

As volunteer fundraisers for schools and clubs, or nonprofit professionals, we need to engage multi-generational donors that make up our local communities. We need to recognize that our audience is made up of many diverse people with different values and goals. The American public consists of four distinct generations, each of them unique, approaching life very differently from each other:

1. The Silent Generation aka “Matures” (born before 1946)
2. Baby Boomers (born1946 to 1964)
3. Generation X (1964-1980)
4. The Millennial Generation aka “Gen Y” (born 1980 to 2000)

(Note: The years might differ slightly depending on definition.)


engaging multi generational donors


Segment donor communications

These four generations use technology and the internet in different ways, differ in the questions they ask, and also the choices they make. Organizations can reach multi-generational donors by ditching the one-size-fits-all approach and adopting more personalized tactics.

We can all be more unique and deliberate with our fundraising efforts, meeting donors at their level, fulfilling the expectations they have for our causes. One way to do this is to split your donors into groups, also known as segmenting. This important fundraising tactic allows you to tailor your communications to each group.

One of the easiest ways to begin segmenting is to use multi-generational donor parameters. Each generation has unique attributes and you can create a donor “character” based on overall likes, dislikes, driving principles, and characteristics that generally are known to hold true for each generation’s particular demographic profile.

If your nonprofit’s donor database isn’t specific enough, grouping your supporters by generation is a good way to start the segmenting process. On into the future, requesting feedback from your donors will add more information to refine the donor database further.

The four generations are very different…

The Silent Generation aka “Matures” (born before 1946) grew up without modern technology. For this generation, life has been defined by their work. Technology meant learning a whole new language and skill set late in their careers.

Motivated by the overall good of the team, loyal and determined, the silent generation follows the rules and upholds the chain of command.

Matures tend to make donations to organizations they belong to such as churches and synagogues, and prefer giving via direct mail or telemarketing solicitations. In 2013, there were 44.7 million people aged 65 and older in the United States, about 14.1 percent of the total population.

Baby Boomers (born1946 to 1964) were the first hi-tech generation raised with TV, rock and roll and early computer development. They’re well-educated, lifelong learners, motivated by the prospect of making a difference and having an impact.

Boomers favor direct mail donations to organizations they’ve known for years; often big-name charity brands they assume will spend their donations wisely. When it comes to making donations, boomers rarely give through crowdfunding appeals, unlike Gen X and Millennials. They’re also not likely to buy products solely because some or all of the proceeds will go to charity. This big generation comprises over 52 million individuals.

Generation X (1965-1980) refined computer literacy and favors electronic communication. Time demanding activities hold little appeal for this small but adaptable generation. They tend to be results orientated, looking for the most efficient way to achieve a goal.

Labeled an overlooked middle child, this group forms the “bridge” between Baby Boomers and Millennials. While not as zealous as Millennials, there are still large numbers of Gen X that use social media to show their support for charity.

The Millennial Generation aka “Gen Y” (born 1980 to 2000) has teethed on technology. Many started using a computer before beginning kindergarten and grew up with evolving technology and multitasking. According to the 2012 US Census Bureau, Gen Y are the biggest generation America has had – over 92 million people.

Millennials tend to give when asked by a friend to make a contribution. This is the generation most likely to respond when reached out to through their social networks and donates through crowdfunding appeals like Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

Organizations that can connect with this generation will do so by being accessible through technology; it’s how Millennials view the world, interact socially and live their lives.

… but they’re also very much alike:

Savvy communicators will recognize that despite the differences, there are commonalities shared by all the generations. There are many things that people of all ages (and socioeconomic circumstances and genders) respond to and appreciate. Keep the following in mind when devising your next fundraising campaign:

  • All generations respond to human contact
  • Energy and enthusiasm are contagious and can infect any generation
  • Stories connect with everyone, so does humor
  • Everyone responds better to personal communication

It’s unrealistic to expect to be all things to all donors, but by keeping the four generations in mind when devising your plans and marketing materials for different channels, being passionate about your cause, focused with your communication and technologically shrewd, your group will become a more effective fundraiser for its mission.

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