5 Generations of Donors: How to Engage with your Diverse Donor Base

5 Generations of Donors: How to Engage with your Diverse Donor Base

5 Generations of Donors: How to Engage with your Diverse Donor Base
January 8, 2020 James Werner

Imagine you go to your favorite restaurant and your favorite server is there. He greets you by name, knows that you don’t want onions on your salad, and ensures a perfect meal.

For most, this is a uniquely personalized experience.

It is also a simplified illustration of the way a modern CRM software tool can help you personalize your communications and target your constituents to the five distinctly different generational personalities in your database.

From reaching out to the Silent Generation to connecting to the current crop of students known as Gen Z, fundraising professionals have a tough task when it comes to managing their pipeline.

Each demographic has preferences, values, and expectations. The Silent Generation still appreciate physical mail and the younger ones are attracted by cause targeting and experiential ways of giving.

It’s an exciting time to be in fundraising because a modern advancement CRM captures the data you expect – which causes you give to, what season tickets you hold, etc. – and it finds deeper patterns that may be meaningful to individual constituents. 

Our software platform helps you maintain and strengthen relationships by maintaining accurate data from sources across campus (and beyond) and allowing all those data to be housed under one roof for the most comprehensive profile information.

This data focus assists with the creation of more effective, targeted communications and can help you identify potential major gift donors as well.

A 360-degree view of your constituents and what they care about helps advancement professionals be respectful of their constituents’ time, more cognizant of the causes that they hold dear, and better able to position solicitations. Part of that approach includes understanding generational differences. 

Besides the oft-discussed Millennials, there are also four other generations active in today’s landscape and each have their own interests and preferences. 


The Giving Philosophies of Different Demographic Groups

Demographic #1: The Silent Generation 

The Silent Generation comes from an era that believes strongly in giving back. They tend to contribute to a select group of causes and are consistent with their giving. Overall, they can be difficult to move from one cause (or support level) to another. But they’re very stable in their convictions and their giving habits. 

Historically, they prefer mail. And while they’re increasingly comfortable with digital communications, they remain attached to hard copy communications and physical checks.

Demographic #2: The Boomers

The Baby Boomers grew up during the 60’s and 70’s. They’re more flexible and less rule-bound than the generation before them. They tend to be somewhat less consistent in their giving habits and can be persuaded to support a variety of different causes. 

Their communication preferences are more individualized than group-determined. Some want emails, some want letters, some want phone calls. The Baby Boomers are an eclectic group of individuals, and fundraisers need to recognize their preferences. 

Demographic #3: Gen X 

Those born between 1961 and 1981 are often characterized as independent and self-sufficient. Members of Gen X are now in their working prime and are beginning to make more substantial gifts to the institutions that they value. They are more inclined than previous generations to demand solid and quantifiable measures of the organization’s success and impact. They tend to give larger gifts to fewer institutions – and they are more willing than previous generations to serve in volunteer positions.

Comfortable online, they respond to well-targeted email communications and social media outreach. Regular communication is essential for keeping Gen X engaged. 

Demographic #4: Millennials

The Pew Research Center says millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest adult population. They tend to be digitally savvy and are often characterized as living on their phones. 

In spite of their limited incomes and high levels of debt, fundraisers are seeing higher percentages of this group donating both time and money than any preceding generation. They prefer narratives to dry statistics. They want to understand the impact of their gifts. Cause targeting is very effective with this group rather than generic appeals.

They’re also very experiential in their philanthropy. They’re just as likely to give time as money and they like opportunities for direct involvement. 

Providing millennials with social opportunities that also give back may be the golden ticket for engaging these constituents.

Demographic #5: Gen Z 

Born in 2000, Gen Z comprises current first- and second- year students. Gen Z is on the conservative side. Like Millennials, they’ve seen and experienced The Great Recession and as a result, they prefer to play it safe. They’re concerned about big issues like climate change and economic inequality. 

They’re still young but have already started giving. In fact, many of them want to start a charity of their own. They also rely on their phones to stay in touch with others, watch videos, listen to music, edit photos or documents, and handle most of life’s tasks. 

The objective is to inculcate in this group a sense of responsibility for the long-term success of their future almas mater. While they won’t represent a significant share of your donors for a long while yet, giving them a sense of the meaning of philanthropy is key. Use mobile-first communications to show them the impact of charitable giving. Your early intervention will pay off handsomely in the future. 


Connecting Through Experience 

Up-to-date technology that helps make prospect management easier is only a part of a modern advancement office. It can help you arrive at good solicitation strategies and technologies and help deliver the right message through the right channels. 

New technologies allow you to establish enduring connections, and to provide continuous narratives to your constituents.

If you can show millennial and Gen Z’ers what an incredible impact your institution is having on you community and on the world, then you can begin building stronger connections sooner. Whether it’s cancer research in your university-affiliated hospital, or health projects being conducted in the developing world, there’s plenty of opportunity to use video, testimonials, and online activities to let your future (and current) donors know that they’re part of something truly amazing. 

Vanderbilt University provides a terrific example of using technology in innovative ways to  engage constituents of all ages. In the middle of its beautiful gothic campus in Nashville, there were four 60’s era dorms that stuck out like sore thumbs.

The university was planning to implode the buildings and saw an opportunity to engage those who had formerly lived in the dorms, those who felt strongly about the ugly facades of the structures, and alumni who had passed by the buildings every day for years. The school decided to livestream the demolition, so that everyone could participate in the change. When the chancellor “pushed the plunger” to initiate the explosion, thousands of former and current students watched the event live. What a terrific way to re-connect the larger community of university constituents!

Following the event, they initiated a mass appeal campaign by offering fragments of the old dormitories for sale. This campaign not only raised money, but also evoked a sense of community, nostalgia, and progress for Vanderbilt.

Experiences like those at Vanderbilt cut through the clutter and offer multiple opportunities to share stories and to engaging both alumni and current students. It’s a creative and modern way to show campus change and to bring constituents together. 

As you think about the generational differences you’ve encountered in your experiences as a fundraising professional, find out more about the ways a modern CRM could help you personalize communications and strengthen relationships.

Connect with and cultivate your constituents in one powerful system.