Apr 18, 2018

Generations: Not Really A Thing?

By: Polly Yakovich


If you've been around the nonprofit world for ... oh, let's say any of the last 15 years or so, you've probably heard something like this:

The biggest transfer of wealth in America is coming to philanthropy as the Greatest Generation dies off and the Baby Boomers inherit their parents money. How will we capture the hearts and generosity of these Boomers as they get this influx of cash?   - or -

Gen X is sad and depressed, they don't donate at the rate the Boomers do. We have to capture their parent's wealth before it falls into their depressed fingers.    - or -

We have to find a way to reach Millennial donors to capture the next generation of givers with exciting and interesting volunteer options so they'll bond with us before they have money to donate!    - or -

Don't bother reaching out to Millennials, they'll never have money!

The list goes on and on. Fundraisers have been obsessed with generational demographics for as long as I remember. But the hard evidence always seemed lacking.

In fact in a client meeting today, we talked about some research that asked current donors of all ages how much they have to give an organization to make a "meaningful difference" with their gift. Older donors answered $10. Younger donors $50. So ... we know nothing.

An article by David Costanza: Can We Please Stop Talking About Generations as if They Are a Thing? essentially says the same thing. Generational demographics? Turns out not really a thing.

In just one example, Costanza says:

"Our research shows that while narcissism among young people did increase slightly through the mid-2000s (about 1.8 points on a 40-point scale), it is now back to where it was in the 1980s. That’s right, on average, millennials are no more narcissistic now than Xers or boomers were when they were in their 20s, and one study has even found they might be less so than generations past. While millennials today may be more narcissistic than Xers or boomers are today, that is because young people are pretty narcissistic regardless of when they are young. This too is an age effect."

So what does that mean for fundraising? I don't know. But one takeaway is that there is no silver bullet. The fundamentals work, and always have. Keep doing them. Yes, things will change and you'll have to adapt. But donors are people, and they will respond to human need the way they always have - with compassion and generosity. Regardless of their age.

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