Over the past couple of decades, baby boomers have been the lifeblood of charitable giving in the U.S., their rock-steady giving fueling nonprofits' efforts to make a difference in the world. While aging boomers continue to play an outsized role in charitable giving, research tells us their giving levels will start to decline over the next few years. But with the world focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, it's imperative that nonprofits begin to build relationships with younger generations and inspire them to give in more meaningful ways. While a lot of attention has been focused on millennials, a generation that is even larger than the boomer generation, a growing body of evidence suggests that the next demographic cohort to step up as significant givers will be Gen Xers and "older" millennials — especially female donors between the ages of 30 and 45.
Let's look at some of the factors that could drive increased giving within this group. We know that the greatest wealth transfer in American history has already begun, as the so-called Silent generation and boomers pass on their wealth to their children and grandchildren. Indeed, according to a study from Accenture, more than $30 trillion eventually will be passed on to these younger generations. Moreover, history shows that people, as they reach their thirties and forties, begin to think about their legacy and establish giving goals, while a number of recent surveys tell us that donors in this demographic group are likely to increase their giving, with women an increasingly significant factor in that giving. In fact, according to the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, women in almost every income bracket give more than their male counterparts.
Being in a financial position to contribute in a meaningful way is only part of the reason why women between the ages of 30 and 45 are poised to become game-changers for philanthropy. A second is that women in this age group are deeply interested in and motivated to make a difference in the world. As a group, they are culturally diverse, connected to the world in new ways, and see themselves not as individual philanthropists but as members of a community. Many also are well educated, find themselves in leadership roles, and are focused on proactively shaping the environment in which their children will grow up. Yet, despite their potential as donors over the long run, they have not been a focus of the charitable sector.
As part of the process of developing an online community-based charitable giving platform called Growfund, I conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with women in this cohort and, along the way, learned a lot about their values and what drives them to want to change the world. Typical of the comments I heard were: "I wish I could do more, but I don't know how," and "Our generation has been taught to save for education, but not to save for philanthropy." Comments such as, "Please don't ask me to volunteer; I do that through my PTA," and "There is so much pulling at me; I want to make a difference, but I need it to be efficient and easy,” also point to a difference between women this age and their parents and grandparents. One woman had raised $35,000 for her local PTA in a month and a half while running a household and working part-time as a consultant. Another told me she knew she wanted to do something to combat sex trafficking but didn't know where to start and, as a single mom with two kids in school, didn't have time to do research. For women in their thirties and forties, time constraints are a serious hurdle to giving. If, on the other hand, they were presented with more accessible, strategic ways to give, they surely would respond — and in significant numbers.
What might that look like in practice? Here are a few things to think about:
Leverage inspirational stories that engage both the head and heart. It's not enough with Gen Xers and older millennials to tug on their heartstrings. They want to know about long-term impact and sustainable change. You need to show them how your organization or cause connects to the broader world.
Use a multi-channel approach. Giving via mobile/text and social media continues to grow in popularity among Gen Xers and millennials. Which means you need to find them where they live and make it easy for them to give.
Say thank you. Donors in this group have the wherewithal to give at meaningful levels — and want to be recognized when they do. If your nonprofit or charity forgets to thank a member of this cohort for their gift, the chances are pretty good you won't be hearing from her again.
Create a sense of community around Gen X and millennial giving. Give your Gen X and millennial donors tools they can use to share their giving — and the impact it is creating — with family and friends. And make sure you give them ideas about how they can engage their children in your cause.
Focus your efforts on metro areas and donors with a college degree. According to a White House report, women living in metro areas are likely to have higher educational attainment levels, which in turn correlate directly with their giving. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University similarly reported that "when controlling for other factors, having a college degree increased giving by about $1,900 annually."
Talk to them. Share with your Gen X and millennial donors specific strategies such as women's advisory boards and giving circles, and encourage them to share their individual feedback with you and your colleagues.
Let's not miss an opportunity to fully engage the younger generations of donors in the pipeline. We all have a part to play in ensuring that they take their place as the greatest generation of game-changers and difference-makers ever.
Ann Canela, a Gen Xer and mom, is vice president of Global Impact and a champion of Growfund.