A Generation of Giving: Study Finds Baby Boomers Give Most to Charity

According to a recent Blackbaud study published by Sea Change Strategies, baby boomers — the generation born between 1946 and 1965 — are the most charitable generation. Boomers as a whole are responsible for 43 percent of charitable contributions, while the matures, the generation born before 1946, are responsible for 26 percent; Generation X is responsible for 20 percent and millennials are responsible for 11 percent.

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On an individual basis, however, the oldest generation still gives the most — an average of $1,367 per person per year compared to an average of $1,212 per person per year among baby boomers. Gen Xers give an average of $732 per person per year, while millennials give a paltry $481 per person per year.

Economic factors could account for some of this disparity in giving, but it’s also been noted that the younger generations tend to place much more emphasis on the value of volunteering. Younger donors are more likely to restrict the ways charities can use their donated funds. They’re also far more concerned with the impact of their contributions.

How will the generations donate in the future? Most boomers say they plan to continue making charitable donations at the same rate, but organizations might have to work harder to win over younger donors going forward.

How the Different Generations Give

Baby boomers, along with matures, give to different causes and via different channels than do the younger generations. Matures and boomers most often give to veteran’s charities. Younger donors prefer to give to human rights causes, international causes and children’s causes.

According to results of the study, donors of all ages feel comfortable with solicitations for charitable donations from their friends or their friends’ children to support the causes important to them. Boomers are more likely to donate online, while the younger generations are more likely to donate at work or by buying products when a portion of the price will be given to charity. The oldest generation overwhelmingly prefers to send donations through the mail.

No generation prefers to give via social media network or text message — contribution rates via these channels were low across the board. Half of all donors report having donated money when checking out at a store in the past year. Nineteen percent of matures reported having donated over the phone in the past year, while only six percent of millennials did so.

Why Aren’t Younger Generations Donating Like Their Elders?

Economic factors could account for much of the reason why members of the younger generations are donating so much less on average than their parents and grandparents. Baby boomers and matures have had more time to build their careers and amass assets. They’ve raised their children and are now preparing for retirement, if they’re not already retired. They have money and time to donate, and some have valuable items or larger items that charities need. For those who can, to donate a boat is, for certain charities, the greatest gift.

Gen Xers and millennials, on the other hand, have more immediate and pressing financial responsibilities. Many are just beginning their careers and starting families. Many more are struggling to make ends meet, as the current economic climate means that millennials in particular are facing a lower standard of living than their parents did.

However, younger generations also want to see more bang for their buck when it comes to charitable donations. Fifty percent of Gen Xers and 60 percent of millennials said that they want to see results from their charitable contributions, and that the size of their contribution’s impact influences how much they give and who they give it to.

The young also possess a stronger spirit of volunteerism than their elders. Although people over 70 are the most likely to volunteer their time, with 42 percent having volunteered in the past year, millennials, more than any other generation, believe that their time is a more valuable contribution than their cash. Thirty percent of millennials believe they can make a bigger difference by giving their time, and 33 percent of millennials actually did so in the past year.

The Future of Giving

Unfortunately for fundraisers, the study paints a less than encouraging picture for the future of charitable giving. Three-quarters of boomers say they plan to support the same number of charities over the next year, and millennials are most likely to increase their giving, with 21 percent reporting they would increase their contributions and 13 percent saying they’d donate to more charities.

How can fundraisers get more out of younger donors? They may have to give up telemarketing for cash, which doesn’t inspire younger donors and instead cater to the younger donor’s desire to see the impact of their contributions. One of the most effective ways to do this may be to tell the stories of those that are helped, so that younger donors can connect to the charity on an emotional level.

About the Author: Contributing blogger Allison Frick has been working in nonprofit fundraising for over 15 years.

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