GenXers or Gray Hairs, which will it be?

This week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy sent fundraisers scurrying every which direction.  A front-page headline trumpeted the importance of “tomorrow’s donors.” A few pages back, readers were told “Baby Boomers Now Key Source of Charity Gifts, Study Finds.”

So which is it? The younger set or the over-50 crowd? Should fundraisers, in the words of the great Wayne Gretzky, skate to where the puck is going?  Or, switching metaphors, is it better to drop our lines where we’ve always fished?

money_war_pc_4601My answer? Yes and yes.

As I’ve written here at Generous Matters, either/or thinking is a losing proposition, and especially when plotting development strategies. A well-rounded fundraising plan balances attention to the birds in hand with those waiting in the bushes. (Okay, enough with the metaphors, but you get my point.)

The good news is that most of what works with one generation, works for all. Granted, it’s important to give attention to tone, content, and delivery channels. But human nature is human nature. And when giving flows from a faith commitment, similarities across age cohorts are magnified.


Too much ado about generational preferences masks more important commonalities – the “it” factors upon which fundraisers can/should build. Cases in point, I’ve yet to meet a donor – young, old, or in between – who isn’t

  • moved by a good story about lives changed, communities made better, and God’s Kingdom advanced.  Success presented winsomely and in narrative form, gets and holds attention.
  • interested in results. Wise stewards, regardless the age, give with their heads as well as their hearts. Keep in touch with your friends between asks, filling them in on the rest of the story as it emerges, and they’ll return the favor.
  • drawn deeper into a cause through in-person exposure to the work.  Organizations for which  growing givers’ hearts is a priority make room for donor involvement, even when doing so takes some effort.
  • appreciative of choices about how to give. It’s true that Millennials and GenXers lead the way in online giving, but their parents and grandparents aren’t far behind.  If you’re still stuck on stamps, you’re leaving money on the table, regardless who’s coming to dinner.
  • impressed by a prompt thank you. Better yet, blow donors’ socks off by referring to the purpose of their gifts and then deliver the thank you via their preferred method.

Put donors and their Spirit-directed passions front and center and watch generational peculiarities recede into the background. When God is in the giving, generous matters, always. Age, not so much.

For more on growing givers’ hearts across generational lines, read:

Seeing + believing = more generous giving

Following the lead of Generations X, Y, and Z and “liking” it

Tips for perfecting your thank you


  1. Christopher says:

    This choice shows up in concrete ways that aren’t just about the technology we use. For example, “should we focus our resources on a golf tournament with a stayed track record, solid committee and aging demographic or a bike tour with a young constituency, smaller dollar donors and less consistent committee leadership?” Likewise in individual approaches, it’s quite difficult to get one-on-one meetings with younger supporters, so specific thought has to go toward how to cultivate these relationships or they just keep getting pushed to the back burner, perhaps going to other places where they feel more connection. I resonate with the overall sentiment though that the carving of donor demographics gets us into a premature crisis that will, i have to believe, resolve as our organizations and relationships evolve.

    • You’re right, Chris, that generational differences show up in attendance at events and participation in activities. I admire organizations that have structures in place to let their friends plan their own fundraisers, rather than staff doing all the work. Charity:Water is an excellent example of one such nonprofit. I can think of several ideas that Brethren Housing Association could mention on its website that might attract the interest and participation of younger donors. Let’s talk.

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