Bridging the Generation Gap

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Most nonprofits have experienced the generation gap when courting donors, drafting communications, and trying to increase engagement levels. 

Your older donors will appreciate a hand-written note or phone call, and are likely to send in their contribution via snail mail and check. Meanwhile your youngest supporters are annoyed by phone calls and prefer to opt-out of print mailings. They want to engage via Instagram or text, and favor digital-only communications.

This poses a challenge for not just your development team, but also your communications department. One generation wants photos and bite-size stories. Another may want more lengthy descriptions and more technical facts.

The reality is that we're facing greater disparities between generations than ever before. So how to navigate this complex landscape without making your teams crazy?

Different Generations of Donors = Different Cultures

It’s not too far-fetched to think of each generation as a different culture. Because we've all grown up in unique eras of communication and technological change, we've cultivated our own ways to connect to causes we’re passionate about. 

This means that building a multichannel strategy and tailoring messages to your different audiences is unavoidable. Customized messaging is the best way to effectively reach and engage each group of donors or supporters with "culturally" sensitive messaging that will resonate with them

Below are breakdowns of five generations of supporters, along with ideas to help you engage each one.

Gen Z (born 1995-2005)

The oldest Gen Z-ers are just cracking the upperclassman ranks in college; the youngest are still surviving junior high. In a rapidly-changing America, it may seem early to pin down this group poised to be the next demographic tidal wave, but economists and cultural critics have circled around some recurring themes. While idealistic millennials were raised in the economic, relatively peaceful heyday of the 1990s, Gen Z has grown up in a drearier world, engendering a more guarded and pragmatic bent.

More important to you and your communications plan, Gen Z was born with technology in hand and has witnessed previous generations' gaffes with online privacy and security. This has made them more social media savvy than the rest of us in many ways, and helps explain their preference for "vanishing" platforms like Snapchat and Whisper over Facebook.

For all their fashion and social network differences, Gen Z is actually much more like your Great Aunt Tilly than you may think. Economist Neil Howe says the parallels between Gen Z and "The Silent Generation" of the Depression era are obvious. They share traits of caution and pragmatism: “There has been a recession, jobs are hard to get, you can’t take risks. You’ve got to be careful what you put on Facebook. You don’t want to taint your record.”

While the engagement tips for millennials also apply to Gen Z’ers, there is one crucial distinction that your org needs to bear in mind:

Gen Z’ers are individuals, but not quite adults. If a high-schooler donates money via a parent's checking account, thank the teen, not the parent. Conversely, if you know your donor is a minor, don’t add them to an aggressive fundraising call list. In other words, don’t forget that you’re dealing with both a differentiated person, and a minor. 

Millennials (born 1981-1995)

Organizations of all sizes and missions need a strategy to engage members of Generation Y, also known as millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, the millennial generation was set to become the country’s largest living generation in 2015, outpacing the entire baby boomer population. 

While these young supporters may not have as large of a giving capacity as older generations, the Giving USA 2014 report finds that the majority of millennials (about 60 percent) donate to charitable organizations. And with Generation X and Y set to inherit $40 trillion in the near future, more and more nonprofits are realizing how critical it is to start drawing these young donors into their mission now.

Make Sure Your Communications are Mobile-Optimized

It’s no shocker that millennials want to engage with nonprofits online. According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, 84% of surveyed millennials donated or want to donate to a nonprofit via their website. A mobile-friendly donation page and email platform are crucial. Eighty percent of millennials report using their phones to read articles and emails from nonprofits.

The best way to keep millennials engaged is to use responsive design. This allows emails, websites, and donation pages to format properly across mobile devices.

Harness the Power of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Millennials stay ultra connected to their peers, having grown up in an age saturated by social media and technology. This is why peer-to-peer fundraising is highly popular with this generation of donors (and Gen Z’ers).

According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, nearly 70 percent of surveyed millennials are willing to fundraise for an organization they’re passionate about. That means your peer-to-peer campaign has the potential to activate a vast majority of young fundraisers, who can then tap their own networks for support. In fact, 64 percent of respondents raise money for walk/run/cycling events, and nearly half (46%) prefer asking people to replace physical gifts with a donation to a specific nonprofit.

This last statistic underscores the personalization options millennials want from their fundraising and giving experience—options that are made possible through a year-round peer-to-peer fundraising program. By adding this permanent fundraising option to your website, you allow supporters to use their birthdays, anniversaries, athletic milestones, or other life events to fundraise for your cause.

Learn more about Why Millenials Matter and get some insight into Millenial thinking from one of Upleaf's own millenial interns.

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

According to the 2013 study “The Next Generation of American Giving,” this generation represents 20 percent of total giving in the U.S. Compared to millennials, more established Gen X donors are likelier to make a monetary gift to support a cause. They also give more frequently than other age groups.

This tech-savvy generation values donating and connecting with nonprofits online, especially through mobile devices. According to the 2013 study, nearly half (47%) of Gen X donors indicated they would consider donating through their mobile device. 

Social media is also an important engagement channel, with 47 percent of Gen X respondents following a nonprofit on social media. It’s up to your nonprofit to establish relationships with these donors, build trust, and give them opportunities to act on behalf of your cause.

Build Trust through Transparency

In order to win the support of younger generations, transparency needs to be one of your organization’s top values. Half of Gen X respondents (and 60 percent of millennials) say that their decision to donate hinges on whether they can see their gift’s impact.

Make sure your website details exactly where donations will go. Translate dollar amounts into tangible results, and provide proof (through visual content like photos and videos) of your work being carried out on the ground. Providing this essential information up front can help you build trust and win over these discerning donors.

Engage Donors In the Workplace

Younger donors also tend to give through their workplace (53% of Gen X respondents have donated at work at least once according to the "Next Generation of American Giving" study). Both Gen X and Gen Y donors are also four to five times more likely to participate in corporately sponsored fundraisers like walks, runs, or cycling events. Tap into these pools of support by collaborating with corporate sponsors.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby boomers represent the top source of income for nonprofits. They make up 34% of the nation’s annual donor base, but they contribute 43% of all gifts made by individuals. While they still engage with nonprofits through direct mail, their online giving and social media continue to spike. The Next Generation of American Giving study found that more boomer donors now give online (42%) than via direct mail (40%), a switch from 2010 when more boomers gave through mail. With 77% of adults aged 50 to 64 using the Internet, this trend is likely to climb upward.

Encourage Monthly Giving

In addition to ramping up your online fundraising, a great way to draw in boomer donors is to promote your recurring giving program. The boomer generation makes up the largest share (21%) of monthly donors.

There’s a good chance your boomer donors forged a connection with your nonprofit in earlier years, and they’ve been loyal supporters since. Reach out to the people who’ve regularly supported you, and ask them to join your special group of monthly donors. Emphasize that automated monthly giving is an easy way to support the programs they care about.

Empower Fundraisers with Tools and Resources

Millennials and Gen X donors aren’t the only ones who can fundraise. Baby boomers or matures, can fundraise just as effectively as their younger counterparts. As with all supporters, they just need to be given the right tools, resources, and encouragement to get started. Reach out to these groups and provide the materials they need, whether it’s email templates, sample social media copy, or help in setting up their personal fundraising pages.

By empowering these donors to fundraise over the Internet and social media, you can actually guide them to the channels where their younger family members and friends might be active. 

Matures (born 1945 or earlier)

This age bracket represents 26% of overall giving. Out of your entire donor pool, mature donors rely the most on direct mail to support and engage with the causes they care about (52% donated through mail, 27% online, according to the 2013 study). 

However, this doesn’t mean that these supporters aren’t capable of becoming solid members of your online fundraising community. According to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center, 70% of adults, ages 65 and older, go online almost every day.

Include These Donors in Your Multi-Channel Outreach

Direct mail may be a tried-and-true communication channel for these donors, but make sure to build a broader, multichannel strategy that includes these supporters. These older donors still go online, and increasing your touch points through an online presence can keep your organization top of mind.

And as the Pew Research Center statistics show, don’t write off these donors when it comes to technology. No matter what age, donors can become active members of your online community when given the right tools and resources.

In a Nutshell? Cover All the Key Bases

At the end of the day, a multi-channel communication strategy helps ensure you reach and engage all generations of supporters. Expanding and honing your digital communications will deepen relationships, not just for support today, but for future giving among younger supporters.