DONOR BASICS | Why Demographics Matter in Fundraising – PT 2

publication date: May 4, 2022
author/source: Michelle Harder

Many people don’t give demographics a second thought, but when it comes to fundraising, it matters a lot.  In this article (Part 2 of a series) author Michelle Harder reviews the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts. 

Who are Millennials? (b. 1980-1995)  

Out of all the cohorts, the Millennials have received the most attention and study to ascertain if they are going to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors or if they are going to forge a path of their own.  The truth is, they are probably going to do a bit of both.    

Millennials are now the largest demographic group in history, surpassing the boomers, and arguably the most diverse generation in Canada across ethnic, national and religious backgrounds, but also in terms of their values and life choices.[1]

While millennials are often described as entitled and narcissistic, research shows that some of them are also idealistic and motivated to use their skills to change the world, not just increase their bank account.  Like every generation, there are differences within the group.  

Millennials are driven (similar to their Boomer parents) to be actively engaged with the charities and organizations they support…even if it is only through online channels.   

They believe in their responsibility to initiate change and are optimistic about their abilities to achieve this. Millennials are finding community through causes and activating each other through social media. 

According to The Environics Institute though, they are not really a homogenous group. They found six distinctive tribes based on their social values survey: Engaged Idealists, Critical Counterculturalists, Diverse Strivers, New Traditionalists, Bros and Brittanys and Lone Wolves.  There is some truth in the typical stereotypes, but they only tell some of the story of this cohort. 

Bros and Brittanys are the largest of the cohort at 32%.  They have average income levels and below average education attainment. They are enthusiastic consumers, risk takers and thrill seekers and they embrace the flattery of social media.  They are also most likely to be ethnically white.   

Diverse Strivers (20%) have two priorities; making it in life and having new intense experiences.  They are most likely to be students of non-white ethnic background (hence the name diverse) and work hard to succeed in career and personal goals.  They maintain a good image and have the latest technology.  These millennials love crowds and attention.   

Engaged Idealists (17%) are, “Millennials on steroids: engaged, sociable, energetic, experiencing seeking and idealistic,[2]” contributing significantly to their interpersonal lives, their careers and community.  Mostly Canadian born, 60% female and living a happy balanced life between work and play, these millennials believe their actions can change the world around them.    

Lone Wolves (16%) are equally split male and female, skeptical of authority, lacking interpersonal connections, and are most likely to have no post-secondary education and incomes under $30K.  Also, this grouping is most likely to be ethnically white and are the least interested in settling down, getting married and having kids. 

New Traditionalists (11%) are a conservative sub-group compared to the others. These millennials are most likely to attend church and reflect traditional religious values, with conservative family and gender roles identifying with deep family roots.  This group has higher levels of education and income, they are ethnically diverse and more likely to be female. 

Critical Counterculturalists make up only 4% of Canadian Millennials.  This group is the most likely to have a graduate degree (1 in 5), be single without kids and are motivated to keep it that way.  Equally male and female, they are ruled by rationality, inclusion and justice.   

According to the Canadian Millennials Social Values Study, one third of Millennials volunteer and 68% make charitable donations.  Most of them gave less than $300, but as education and household income increase, so does overall giving.   

Just over a third of Millennials give five or more hours of volunteer time a month and this is again linked to education level.  About half of Engaged idealists, New Traditionalists, and Diverse Strivers volunteer. 

The report indicated reasons they did not volunteer, such as lack of time, lack of opportunity/haven’t been asked (take note of this…it was 35%!), lack of interest, external barriers (such as childcare, costs), and prefer to give money (hint hint). 

When it comes to giving, millennials earning $100K+ who are educated are most likely to give a gift of $500 or more.  Most millennials make a gift of $300 or less (68%). 

The data for Canada is similar to global data and 54% of millennials make online contributions, including crowdfunding, text and email.  Workplace event/appeal, canvassing (door-to-door or public spaces) and charity events all came in next with 22%-26% participating. 

How to reach them 

  • Millennials want to engage online so make sure you have online social channels available and with content optimized for mobile.
  • Millennials stay ultra-connected to their peers, which is why peer-to-peer fundraising is very popular with this generation of donors.
  • Millennials are not as interested in monthly giving as the Boomers and Gen Xer’s, but some will still give monthly, particularly in the church.

More recently, millennials are asking for donations in lieu of gifts for birthdays, end of year holidays and special events. Your organization can benefit from this trend by creating group fundraising options that facilitate and encourage alternative giving. 

Who are Gen Z? (b. 1996 – present) 

Generation Z makes up roughly 28% of Canada’s total population.[3] Most of the research on this group comes out of the US but is still relevant when talking about general characteristics and trends.   

With the web revolution that occurred throughout the 1990s, Gen Z have been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology in their upbringing.  Often called “technology natives,” this generation uses technology to do just about everything — to talk to friends, watch videos and even do homework   

According to Beth Kanter, Gen Z are much more active online than millennials, spending an average of 10 hours/day online including time at school.  They also appear to be more self-aware, as opposed to self-centred, as millennials have often been depicted.[4]

Interestingly, Gen Z kids are pursuing post-secondary education at a higher rate than the millennials did, and this is being credited to the fact that their parents are more educated than the parents of previous generations.    

As Generation Z enter the workforce and get established in adulthood, it is likely that further shifts in generational giving trends will be instituted by this group. This generation’s mindfulness of the world around them drives a desire to improve communities both locally and internationally, moving us closer to a better world every day. 

In Canada, 38% of Gen Z have never donated because no one asked and 43% gave their time and volunteered instead.[5]  This is the number one reason people do not donate, because no one asked.  We probably think kids are too young to ask them to give, but just like anyone else, these kids want to help make the world a better place.   

Young donors are the most dissatisfied with their giving.  They would give more but are not being engaged the way they want to be, and less happy with the amounts they currently give.  They also cited they did not know where to give (28%) and it was hard to find a cause worth giving to (16%). 

Young donors are most likely to donate at a place of worship, on one’s own initiative and online. 

Engage Gen Z online and you have the potential to engage their entire online community.  Let’s face it, everyone gets excited when a young person engages in charitable causes. Get these young people involved! They are (literally) online waiting for you to ask.  

In 2018, Greta Thunberg was 14 years old when she did her first sit-in for climate change in Sweden.  A year later she was addressing the United Nations.  Do not underestimate the ability of young people to give and enact change.  Indeed, they can.   

A number of years ago we were doing a capital campaign presentation to church leaders. One of the elders brought his son, perhaps 12 years of age. During the presentation of the financial challenge to the group, I noticed the boy writing down figures on a sheet of paper. After we finished, he called us over and asked if we would help him figure out how much he could give to the building program.  

I discovered that what he had written down on the paper on the left side was his income from three sources, running a paper route, working at the local grocery store stocking shelves and the allowance he was receiving from his parents.  

On the right side he had listed his expenses. As he went through them with us, he looked at me and said, “I have expenses you know.” 

He looked at both numbers and said, “I think I can give $5 a week to the building fund. Can you help me put it on the card?” I got a card, added up the $5 over the 156 weeks. It amounted to $780. I'll never forget when he looked at us and said, “Wow that's a lot of money.” 

The truth is that he gave more than one third of the adults in the church.  

What does it matter?  

I mentioned in part one of this series, that knowing your donors and their passions is important because it enables you to tailor your appeals to the right audience for a successful response.  In other words, people are more likely to give. 

In order to engage younger generations in a way that is meaningful to them, you are going to have to meet them where they are at.  This means having a robust and active portfolio on social media.   

Start with a focus group or survey with your young adults and just ask them what social channels they want to communicate on.  If it’s one you are already using, perhaps you just need to tailor your content more to their interests. You’ll be glad you did!  

Michelle Harder has over 20 years of experience in fundraising and nonprofit development.  As an author, consultant and public speaker, with a specialty in faith-based fundraising, Michelle is driven by a passion to help organizations large and small achieve their fundraising and strategic goals.

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