Are you missing these critical clues to Gen Y donors?

publication date: Dec 5, 2011
author/source: Carolyn Hawthorn
As the numbers of older donors begin to decline, charitable organizations will need the tools to engage a new generation with great giving potential. The Gen Y donor is a relatively new concept, but one to take seriously. Understanding the Gen Y profile will help equip organizations to engage and cultivate new Gen Y donors, volunteers, employees and leaders.Carolyn Hawthorn photo


Generation Y is one of the most educated generations to enter the work force. Just over 1.1 million students were enrolled in Canadian universities in 2008-2009 according to Statistics Canada. StatsCan also notes a steady increase at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Multiple years of education create a desire to implement specialized skills, talents, and abilities within the work force quickly and efficiently. Yet when job searching, many Gen Ys find themselves caught for that very reason. Too much education and a lack of real world experience can make it difficult to get a job.

Charities interested in engaging volunteers or even permanent staff can offer attractive opportunities to Gen Ys facing that challenge through a number of means:
  • Department-specific internships
  • Co-ops in collaboration with college or university programs
  • Volunteer work matching their education and interests
  • Work that is competitive and fulfils specific responsibilities

When education increases, so does the debt load that Gen Ys carry in their late 20s and 30s. Statistics Canada reports that across Canada and across all disciplines, average tuition rose 16.8% just in the four years from 2006/2007 to 2010/2011.

A CBC article on student debt contrasts the average 2009 debt load of $26, 680 for university and $13, 600 for college with the 1995 figures of $13,000 and $9,000 respectively. Those numbers don't include credit card loans, food or transportation costs, which can add thousands to debt levels.

Thus, Gen Ys enter the period of marriages, mortgages, and money multitasking with more debt already incurred than their predecessors. Most of this debt is through loans, specifically provincial student assistance programs. In general, according to a 1999 study, parental support covers less of the load than summer employment and student loans. Gen Ys struggle after graduation to pay off debts and simultaneously advance their careers.

Within these limitations, a Gen Y $10 donation is a legitimate financial decision rather than an impulse gift. A charity that recognizes that fact through individual thanks and public acknowledgement is more likely to retain Gen Y supporters for the future.


Gen Ys are accustomed to international travel and view themselves as global citizens. A recent UCLA study showed 70% of Gen Ys in the United States have socialized with someone of a different ethnic group within the last year.

A general social survey from the University of Chicago found students there were nearly unanimous in believing that women and men should have equal opportunities. More individuals believe in same-sex marriage than in previous generations, and serious romantic relationships across different cultures, ethnicities, sexualities and religions are not novel. Gen Ys have grown up with the ability, need, and desire to reach past what used to be described as "our own."

The Gen-Y-friendly charity

To appeal to the Gen Y traits discussed in this article, charities can
  • provide up-to-date training programs
  • ask Gen Ys for input on program details and wording
  • maintain an open an diverse work environment
  • celebrate donor, volunteer, and employees stories through articles, social media and newsletters.
Understanding the general background of Gen Ys can only result in something positive. At the very least you will boost your organization's ability to interact with that generation in an authentic manner. At most, you'll create passionate, dynamic and dedicated donors, volunteers, employees and leaders for life.

This article is adapted from research carried out in the Fundraising and Volunteer Management Program at Humber College, Toronto.

Carolyn Hawthorn is a recent graduate from the Fundraising and Volunteer Management program at Humber College. Passionate about causes close to the hearts of young adults, Carolyn has worked in the communications department at The University of Western Ontario Student Union, her alma mater. Currently an active "Mo Sista," Carolyn is working at Movember Canada.

Contact Carolyn for more information.

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