Fundraising Concepts that Increase Engagement Among Generation Z and Millennial Audiences


The landscape of nonprofit donor demographics is changing, as millennials and Gen Zers are increasingly becoming more engaged with organizations that they believe in.

According to a study by Giving USA, millennial donors have significantly increased their giving from 2016 to 2022. They have now surpassed Generation X in average household giving by $103 per annum (8 percent), having increased their annual giving by $381 or 40 percent and Gen X having decreased by 4 percent to $1,220. Gen X donors gave $323 (34 percent) more than millennials in 2016, whereas by 2022, they were giving $103 less.

As the impact of Gen Xers’ and baby boomers’ support diminishes over time, capturing the attention of the younger generations should be a priority for fundraising organizations. These groups are increasingly busy, savvy and overwhelmed with demands for their attention, however. For these reasons, it’s important to take extra measures to capture their attention, convert them into donors and then maintain strong relationships with them in order to ensure that they continue to support your organization. Nurturing these age groups may also encourage them to become major donors

Engaging the millennial and Gen Z cohorts requires some creative strategies, but studies show that once they are engaged, they often become loyal supporters.

Millennials and Generation Z: Who They Are and What Drives Their Giving Behavior 

Although there are some variations regarding the exact timeframes, the following is a generally accepted breakdown of these generations by birth year:

  • Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials: 1981 to 1996
  • Generation Z: 1997 to 2012
  • Generation Alpha: 2013 to 2025

According to the Giving USA study, places of worship dominate as the primary recipient of donor support, but that decreased from 2016 to 2022 in all the generations. In fact, in 2022, Americans gave $499.33 billion to charity, with $143.57 billion (27 percent) of that going to religion, followed by human services at 14 percent, education at 13 percent, foundations at 11 percent and health at 9 percent. Additional entities included in the breakdown are public-society benefits; international affairs; arts, culture and humanities; environment/animals; and individuals.

A notable finding was that, unlike those in the three generations before them, Gen Zers donated to environmental organizations more than to faith-based organizations. However, the percentage of donors who attend church a few times a month or more increased from 38 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2022. Millennials, particularly, are more engaged in their faith than other generations are. Millennials are much more likely to attend services in person or virtually than either Gen Xers or baby boomers. In fact, 67 percent of millennial donors surveyed in the Giving USA study said they attend at least a few times a month, up from 49 percent in 2016. By contrast, Gen X donors’ attendance has dropped from 48 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2022, and baby boomers’ attendance dropped from 46 percent to 44 percent. The study also showed that millennials’ engagement has gone up since 2016, while engagement in the other two generations has gone down.

With the exception of baby boomers, all of the age groups prioritized supporting hospitals or other health/medical-based organizations.

A mobile-first mindset and personalized communications may help you attract millennials as new donors, as well as keep them engaged with your organization for the long-term.

Preferred Marketing Communication Channels

Technology and social media also drive Gen Zers’ and millennials’ giving behavior and their engagement with nonprofit organizations, although direct mail continues to be effective as well.

Having a mobile first mindset, therefore, may help nonprofit organizations reach and engage with more donors. Organizations should make donating online simple and effective yet impactful in terms of ensuring that donors recognize their influence. For example, donors should receive an instant acknowledgement of their donation, but you should consider sending personalized “thank you” emails to them as well. To further strengthen this relationship, you can also send communications informing them about how their support made a difference and impacted your mission. Using emotional messaging specific to the donors’ interests can help deepen the level of engagement.

Following up with a direct mail piece that really drives your message ensures that the donors can be engaged on several fronts. This omni-channel approach to fundraising strategies can be highly effective among all cohorts.

Social Media

Social media platforms continue to drive engagement and impact these groups to support particular organizations. As noted in the Giving USA report, people asking for support on social media obtained a significant amount of engagement and support as shown below, with younger donors more likely to allow social media to impact their role in giving.

  • 42 percent of Gen Zers
  • 37 percent of millennials
  • 27 percent of Gen Xers
  • 11 percent of baby boomers

The percentage of donors influenced to give online by a text from a charity, specifically, increased among all generations from 2016 to 2022, as shown below:

  • 13 percent of the Gen Z group
  • 7 percent of the millennials
  • 7 percent of the Gen X group
  • 3 percent of baby boomers

Email Marketing

Email continues to be effective in virtually all forms of marketing, but it’s especially impactful for nonprofit fundraising initiatives. It’s also cost-effective and less time-consuming than some other channels.

According to HubSpot, 91 percent of all U.S. consumers still use email daily, and an email marketing campaign can deliver a return of $40 for every $1 spent.

It’s also an ideal way to personalize communications to your audience. Personalized messages are proven to attract more attention and engagement from recipients.

Direct Mail

Studies show that individuals in all age groups appreciate the value of direct mail and frequently engage with it. 

Direct mail makes more of a tangible impact than email or social media. Recipients physically touch direct mail, and as they do so, they will inevitably look at key areas of the communication – such as your logo or highlighted message. In fact, print has a 70 percent higher recall rate than that of digital media! 

It also cuts through the clutter of other forms of communication and can be effective in generating the desired action.

The Giving USA study showed that millennials were more likely to respond to direct mail in 2022 than they were in 2016. Despite some long-standing beliefs that younger audiences don’t respond to direct mail, studies have shown that they are more likely to respond to a direct mail solicitation with an online gift than they are to respond to a digital solicitation. This shows, therefore, that the channel used to connect with younger audiences is more important than how they make the gift, so having a thorough understanding of that behavior is essential.

Donors influenced to give by direct mail in 2022 were as follows:

  • Gen Z: 45 percent
  • Millennials: 59 percent
  • Gen X: 52 percent
  • Baby boomers: 52 percent

However, with the exception of the Baby Boomer cohort, the other generations preferred to donate online rather than by mail.

When all these factors are combined, the bottom line is that integrating digital and traditional channels is ideal for optimal impact.

An omni-channel approach to fundraising – such as a combination of email marketing, social media marketing and direct mail campaigns – may convert more donors and improve your ROI.

Upgrading Technology for Fundraising Success

Nonprofit organizations should keep an eye on technological trends and integrate these solutions into fundraising practices to make it easier for donors to contribute their support.

Online fundraising platforms should be updated for mobile pay options. Nonprofit organizations and fundraisers should offer payment options that are embraced by these generations, such as Venmo, Zelle, Cash App and PayPal.

Integrating in-person and virtual events and experiences – such as seminars, raffles, auctions, fitness opportunities, entertaining video streams, podcasts, contests and games – may also engage younger donors.

Think about this, for example: Remember those extensive TV telethons? There’s no reason those can’t occur online – live. They would still be engaging and beneficial, but you won’t need live people to answer the phones. Today, automated technology – such as automated phone systems or a “donate” button on a website – can handle it all. In fact, it’s a faster and easier way to reach your audience – and when you’re online, the audience is anyone, anywhere. Just make sure you are attracting the attention of people who are most likely to donate, such as by using paid advertisements to a certain demographic in advance of the event.

Remember to make your donation page easily accessible, and your call-to-action buttons should be highly visible from any applicable page on your website, social media pages or marketing emails. Be sure to optimize your pages for mobile as well, which will help keep new donors on your site long enough to tap that donate button.

Solidifying Relationships with Donors in the Generation Z and Millennial Cohorts

Engaging with younger generations is essential to nonprofit sustainability. Strategic donor acquisition and engagement also lays a firm foundation for their long-term support of your organization and may encourage them to increase their support.

Embracing the digital era, making it simple to support your organization, ensuring that donors understand the positive impact of their support through emotionally engaging content and maintaining authentic connections are all driving factors in fundraising success.

Read the following case studies and blogs to learn more.

Mark M Gaskill
Mark M Gaskill

EVP of Marketing Solutions

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