It wasn’t long ago I sat around a table at a Board Meeting as the Consultant. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What would you like to accomplish with your fundraising?

The Board: We want younger donors!

(I sighed inside and looked at all the faces eagerly nodding. Here we go, I thought.)

Me: What do you consider young?

The Board: People in their 20s and 30s.

(Inside I did that smh emoji thing.)

And then I had to explain why I didn’t think it was such a good idea.


Some Background on Millennials

Millennials are 83.1 million strong and were born between 1981 and 2000. That puts them between 17 and 36 years old. They have $200 million in purchasing power and are set to inherit the $43 trillion of wealth from the older generations. Sounds good so far. Why aren’t they a no-brainer?

The youngest of the Millenials are seniors in high school in 2017. The oldest of these are establishing careers, buying homes, and having children. In January 2017, Millennials represented around 45% of all home purchase loans, up from 42% the same month in 2016. However, the average Millennial has $48,000 in student loan debt, is underemployed, and often makes $12/hr in service jobs. That’s not minimum wage but to live above federal poverty standards, you have to make more than $10.60/hr. A living wage requires more. The combination of student debt and low wages has Millenials worried about their ability to accumulate wealth.

Let’s look at Millennials by the fundraising numbers.

They are said to be a generous group but they prefer to donate their time instead of money. As a result, they make up 11% of the total dollars given in the United States. They will tell you they are generous with 93% of millennials donating to charity in 2010 (but they include volunteering and dollars donated in their percentage). They also don’t tell you that their average giving dollars is $481 per year. They also (on average) divide this up between 3 charities.

Millenials earn 20% less than Boomers did at the start of their careers, despite being better educated. The median college-educated Millennial is only earning slightly more than a Baby Boomer without a degree did in 1989.


Some Background on Generation X and Baby Boomers

Generation X (often referred to as Gen X) was born between 1965 and 1980. They are the smallest of the groups at 66 million. They are the original slackers and the latchkey kids. This is the music video loving MTV generation. They remember how video killed the radio star. They are the most educated generation and the leading edge is in their early 50s.

They are unique and skilled communicators. They can write a grammatically correct letter to their parent’s Boomer generation and Snapchat using LOL and emojis with their Millennial children. Social Media is not a stranger to them but they use it not for self-promotional selfies but to keep up and communicate with those around them.

Because the leading edge has just turned 50, they are sending kids to college, paying off mortgages, and beginning to think about retirement. They are coming to a point in life where they will have a disposable income to spend. Having been in the workforce for some time, many hold managerial positions and, on average, the generation earns $28.37 an hour.

Baby Boomers are the generation born between 1946-1964. They are a population of 75.4 million and until the Millennials were the largest population. They are at or entering into retirement age and have the most disposable income. Here are some facts about Boomers:

  • They control 80% of all financial wealth in the US.
  • They have $46 trillion.

Let’s look at Generation X and Baby Boomers by the fundraising numbers.

Gen X

Gen X represents 20% of all charitable giving in the United States. They give on average $732 a year among 3.9 charities. The leading edge of this cohort is in their early 50s, meaning they are coming into a place in life when donating is meaningful. With 40% of Gen Xers donating online, this cohort makes up the largest group donating online.

Baby Boomers

The Boomers represent 43% of all charitable giving in the United States and give an average $1,212 a year among 4.5 charities. They spend 78% of all dollars spent online and are 1/3 more generous than older donors were at the same age. Boomers give nearly half of all philanthropic giving from individuals. Between the sheer number of Boomers and the fact they are in a place in life where giving is important, the fact remains they are the force to be reckoned with today and the foreseeable future.



Millennials will one day be a force to be reckoned with as donors but not today. They are earning less and are saddled with too much debt. They simply do not have the disposable income needed to be big givers. You can’t go against human nature. The charitable giving impulse starts to grow sometime after age 40 and grows stronger in the 50s. It really starts to matter in the 60s and older. Gen X and Baby Boomers are the generations you should be targeting more heavily. They have the means and the charitable giving impulse.

In addition, the technology you develop today and direct to Millennials will not be relevant to them in 20 years when they are in a place in life to be mission changing donors. However, I don’t think you need to use this as an excuse not to use technology. Learning new technology today helps your organization tackle newer technology tomorrow.

Baby Boomers are still the viable target for charitable giving and Generation X is the new target audience to replace your oldest generation, Silvers, who are dying out. Millennials will become a force and should not be left out of your fundraising and marketing strategy but targeting them to give significant money will not be cost beneficial for another 20 years.

With all this said regarding generational differences, it should be noted that sound fundraising is not about a particular group. Fundraising is about connecting people who want to make a difference with those who have the ability to make that difference. Period.


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