If you want to know what motivates a donor, just ask. That’s exactly what we did at a roundtable discussion including nonprofit leaders spanning five generations. The participants were just as eager to discuss the topic as we were as they are facing an aging donor base and looking to engage with younger generations. Here’s what we heard:

Author Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D says “The era when you were born has a substantial influence on your behavior, attitudes, values and personality traits.” We took a deep dive into the values of five generations and how they impacted advocacy, giving and more.

Younger generations want more transparency. They want to know they are making a difference whereas older generations appreciate structure and process. Younger generations may look more at mission, whereas our Silent, Boomer and GenXers might look more at a financial statement. Older generations are comfortable writing a check after they’ve done their due diligence. Younger generations seek volunteer opportunities that involve more hands-on work.

We asked “How does each generation define and show advocacy?” Connection was the common thread in that all generations want a personal connection.

Advocacy may be stylistically more digital, smaller in size and scope and more organic for Millennials and Gen Zs. They tend to seek instant gratification whereas the older generations may take a more long-term view and feel more comfortable in larger-scale events.

In philanthropy there is a saying: If you know one donor, you know one donor. Giving is personal. It doesn’t matter which generation you were born into, your motivation to give is your motivation to give. Where we did see some generational differences was in the how — how they connect with a cause and how they give.

Surprising the older generations, GenZs and Millennials told us that although they may communicate digitally, a relationship still starts with a human connection. Social media can then deepen the relationship. Without an initial personal connection, even younger generations are not engaged.
Stories of impact are important to all generations however it was clear that different generations, and different people, consume information differently. That means same story, multiple channels: newspaper, annual report, personal letters, social media and videos. Our Millennial and GenZ participants, who value authenticity, explained why it is often better to receive a short, less polished, more straight-from-the-heart video from a nonprofit then the more well-produced videos of earlier generations.

Personal connections, punctuated by compelling stories, will lead older generations into planned giving and larger gifts. They contribute for social connection and activities. Younger generations will give smaller amounts more frequently, so they feel a part of something bigger than themselves without it feeling financially overwhelming. They are also more inclined to give to online crowdsourcing sites that demonstrate unity and provide direct impact.

We each left the discussion more aware of each generations’ values and their impact on advocacy and financial contributions. We left inspired by what we learned and empowered to continue the journey.