• April 23, 2014

Baby Boomers Now Largest Source of Charity Gifts, Study Finds

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Baby boomers now give the largest share of donations to charities, surpassing every other age group, including the generation born before 1946, says a study released today.

Boomers make up 34 percent of the pool of donors, but give 43 percent of all money contributed by individuals, the study found.

“Baby boomers are now the dominant source of income for most nonprofits,” says Mark Rovner, a principal at Sea Change Strategies and the study’s primary researcher.

Together with the generation born before 1946, he says, they are responsible for the vast majority of giving to charities. The study, which is based on self-reported data, found that the two groups together are responsible for nearly 70 percent of the estimated total annual giving to charities by individuals.

Future Concerns

However, the findings raise concerns for fundraisers: Donors at all stages of life are not poised to significantly increase their giving over the next year—and it will be harder in the future to win support from the generations that follow the boomers.

Of the four generations surveyed—“millennials,” born from 1981 to 1995; Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980; boomers; and the elderly—a majority in each group said they expected to give the same amount of money to charity in the coming year and to support the same number of charities.

Donors in their 20s and early 30s were most likely to say they planned to give more in the next 12 months and support more charities, with 21 percent saying they would give more money and 13 percent saying they would add beneficiaries.

Seventy-five percent of boomers said they would support the same number of charities in 2013 that they did last year, a higher share than for any of the other groups.

The online study of 1,014 U.S. donors was conducted in May and published by Edge Research, Sea Change Strategies, and Target Analytics, a division of Blackbaud.

Young Donors’ Demands

Donors under 50 showed markedly more interest than older Americans in seeing a charity’s results. Nearly 60 percent of millennials, and half of Generation X donors, said that seeing results from their contributions influenced their decision to give. By contrast, only a third of the oldest generation said the same. 

In the video below, watch Alia McKee, of Sea Change Strategies, explain why nonprofits that want to attract young donors have to invest in storytelling to show results.

Young donors were also less likely to make unrestricted gifts to charities: 43 percent of donors born before 1946 said they would make a gift that wasn’t earmarked for a specific purpose, compared with only 22 percent of millennials.

Perhaps most alarming for fundraisers, the results indicate that the younger donors are, the less likely they are to agree that cash gifts are the best way to support charities.

While 48 percent of donors born before 1946 said money made the biggest difference, only 36 percent of Generation X said the same, and only one in four millennials agreed.

Instead of cash, millennials would rather give their time: The survey found them to be the most fervent believers of all the generations in the value of volunteering. Thirty percent said they could make the biggest difference that way, compared with 24 percent of the eldest generation and 20 percent of boomers.

However, people in their 70s and beyond were the most likely to have volunteered at a charity in the past year—42 percent did so, compared with 33 percent of millennials.

Fundraising Preferences

The survey also asked people of all ages how they have donated during the past two years. Some key findings:

  • Half of all donors have given money at a retail store’s checkout counter, making it the most popular means of giving for all except those in the oldest generation. Direct mail is the most popular means of giving for people in their 70s or older.
  • Online giving is popular among all ages. Thirty-nine percent of all donors said they had given that way, including 42 percent of boomers. More boomers give online than through the mail.
  • “Online is definitely catching fire,” says Mr. Rovner. “It is really becoming the dominant giving channel for baby boomers.”

  • Direct mail and phone solicitation plummet in popularity among younger donor groups. While 52 percent of the oldest generation gave by mail over the past two years, only 22 percent of Generation X and 10 percent of millennials did.

Giving by phone was much less popular overall, although 19 percent of the oldest donors reported that they gave that way. Telemarketing generated donations from only 6 percent of millennials and is unlikely to grow in popularity, says Mr. Rovner.

“If I had telemarketing stocks in my portfolio, I would sell them tomorrow,” he says.

The full study, “The Next Generation of American Giving,” can be downloaded free. Go to: blackbaud.com/nextgen.

Send an e-mail to Heather Joslyn.

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