Fully three-quarters of Millennials (those born between about 1981 and 1995) made charitable contributions in 2020, whether these went to traditional nonprofit organizations or to people in their own circles of family and friends hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all of these gifts may be tax deductible, but that likely is not necessarily the point or even a significantly motivating factor. And about half of this age group continues to make regular donations.
Recent surveys show that about 44 percent of the youngest adults, those in Generation Z (the “Zoomers” born after about 1996), make regular charitable donations. The average annual gifts of people in this age group is in the hundreds of dollars.
Yet dollar amounts are hardly the final word on the subject. The resurgence among Millennials and Zoomers of a passion for giving is both notable and likely a harbinger of things to come.
An Attitudinal Shift
It’s this cohort of young adults that is poised to bring about a generational shift in how we think about and administer philanthropy. Their engagement in the process is crucial to philanthropy’s future.
For one thing, extremely high net-worth individuals have often used philanthropy as an engine for obtaining tax advantages, even as many of their charitable dollars remain tied up in funds and out of circulation. [AB1]
While experts note the very real and long-lasting contributions that these—usually older—philanthropists continue to make, many believe their charitable dollars could be doing much more. Some experts and ethicists argue that the decision-making power these super-wealthy donors hold could be more widely dispersed and shared, rather than staying concentrated in only a few hands.
A way to bend the arc could involve placing greater emphasis on shaping the giving of younger, emnerging philanthropists. As a group, they may not yet have the massive monetary clout that their older counterparts do, but they bring many other desirable qualities to the table as volunteers, donors, and the rising generation of major philanthropists.
Sharing Skills, Seeking Justice, Promoting Connection
Skills-based volunteering—in which individuals leverage their professional skills on behalf of nonprofit organizations—has become a growing trend among Millennials and Zoomers. These generations also focus on becoming closely involved with the entire process of their philanthropy and their desire to personally follow its results.
Every philanthropist is, of course, a unique individual, with distinct perspectives, reasons for giving, and ideals. Nonprofit leaders are learning to reach out and get to know current and potential Millennial and Gen Z donors at the person-to-person level. In particular, they are engaging with this generation’s investment in issues related to diversity, racial justice, and inclusion.
In addition, they are learning to bring young philanthropists on board by communicating a sense of mission and purpose that will allow these donors to become directly engaged.
Personally-Driven Community Activism
This generation of new donors has also been distinctively marked by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have found themselves drawn to personal stories. Perhaps as a result, they have been moved to give as a way of promoting social justice addressing identified needs of marginalized people.
They have also joined giving networks and mutual aid groups, both formally and informally structured, and they have stepped up to offer informal but highly effective social support to elders and other vulnerable people among their families and friends. In this respect, crowdfunding efforts have also met with notable success among this age group. In 2018, almost half of Millennials surveyed reported contributing to a crowdfunding campaign.
As nonprofits across the country have worked harder to connect themselves with the goals of their younger donors, they have begun to build leadership development programs geared to their needs. They have also begun to develop investment vehicles that enhance their unique giving potential. As these forward-looking nonprofits have discovered, it doesn’t take a multi-millionaire to be an effective philanthropist at the community level.
Draw Them in, Meet Them Where They Are, Build Ties
Best practices for engaging Millennial and Gen Z donors include leveraging the power of social media platforms and technology, one of this group’s preferred means of communication. A recent survey showed almost 60 percent of Zoomers making contributions did so after being engaged by a social media campaign. Take advantage of emerging social media capabilities, including Reels and Stories.
Additionally, make sure that any communications you put out are easily accessible on mobile devices. Make it easy, quick, and seamless to give via mobile and social platforms.
Keep communications and requests concise and to the point, while remaining authentic and transparent. Clearly state a particular problem to be solved and the anticipated or desired tangible outcomes. Show respect and treat young donors as full equals and partners in your work. And whatever medium you use, put storytelling front and center as a means of enhancing personal engagement.
Where appropriate and mission-alligned, put gender equality, racial and social justice, and human rights generally front-and-center in your organization and in your donor recruitment and retention materials. And offer multiple opportunities to get involved and to make personal connections within your organization. You can attract significant numbers of Millennial and Gen Z donors willing to be social media and public cheerleaders for your cause by giving them the opportunity to become part of your essential long-term donor base and leadership.