There’s a puzzle that I’m trying to figure out. Maybe you’ve got some insight and can help me.
When I got started in my career in prospect research, it didn’t take me long to figure out that we were concentrating on people (okay, mostly men) who were in their 40s to 70s. These were the donors who were in their prime earning years or recently retired, finally able to spend their spare time on volunteering and their spare cash on donating.
We didn’t ignore their kids, of course, but since there’s only so much time in the day, it was the Boomers that got the majority of our prospect identification and research attention. It’s just Sutton’s Law.
So, okay, those Boomers are aging out of prime giving now. Most are now fully in retirement mode, so it makes sense that we look to the next generation who are in their prime earning years or recently retired.
In the press (fundraising and general audience), you can’t open a newspaper or magazine without seeing articles like Millennials And Charitable Giving: A New Approach To Philanthropy, How Millennials Are Changing Philanthropy, and How to Appeal to Millennial Supporters.
Which is great.
But that’s not the next generation after the Boomers. Gen Xers are.
Mackenzie Scott’s generation. And Jennifer and David Risher’s. Also Pam and Pierre Omidyar. John and Laura Arnold. And probably at least half of the donors who are giving large gifts to your nonprofit right now. They’re Xers. Not Millennials.
In fact, when you look at the Forbes list of 25 most philanthropic billionaires, there are only two Millennials on that list and they’re married to each other – Zuckerberg and Chan.
Sure, Boomers and Gen Xers are giving more in terms of dollars ($732 and $1,212 per year, respectively),” writes Justin Wheeler in Forbes, “but at an average of $481 given each year, Millennials are quickly gaining influence over the philanthropic space (source: The Next Generation of American Giving, 2018).
Considering that Millennials earn less than their counterparts did and are often riddled with student debt, years away from owning a car or a home, these numbers are significant. If people become more generous over their lives and are more likely to give if their parents give, Millennials will become the most generous generation in history. One can easily imagine this reaching 95 or even 100 percent by the time they reach midlife.”
So let me get this straight: Boomers and Xers are giving about twice as much per year right now, but we should be paying special attention to this generation that’s riddled with student debt and years away from owning homes? Who graduated college smack in the middle of the Great Recession and then, just as they were getting their feet under them, had to live through another economic tank-a-thon, with a pandemic thrown in for good measure?
Honestly, can we just give them a break for a few years? And (thanks for being patient on my getting to the point here) why exactly is the press (as well as several fundraising conference sessions) focused on Millennials to the exclusion of Gen Xers?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that Millennials are not philanthropic and that they don’t volunteer and that they’re not super-involved with nonprofits and/or that we should ignore them.
It just seems that Millennials are the press’s shiny object and, for some reason, despite all of their truly radical global-changing philanthropy we’re not talking about Gen X as the great philanthropic generation they are.
I mean, great Scott, look at them! Melinda Gates is an Xer, too!
According to a report by Fidelity Charitable, Gen Xers volunteer 8 hours on average per month (Millennials 9 and Boomers 6).
57% of Millennials say they give to a broad range of causes, while 63% of Gen X focus their giving on a limited number of nonprofits. Maybe Millennials are still looking for that special cause or two that they want to devote their time to, but what that says to me is, if you have a Gen X donor/volunteer involved with your nonprofit, chances are you will have them for life if you pay attention to them and steward them right.
Also, Gen X donors are more focused on their local communities, according to Fidelity Charitable. So for prospect identification purposes, that provides some helpful geographical focus for you to consider, too.
In prospect development, we have to remember Sutton’s Law. Today’s shiny objects may well be tomorrow’s philanthropists, and, yes, we should always keep our eyes on the periphery and pull it into focus over time. But we need to stay focused on what will work for our nonprofits now, and keep the philanthropic power generation in focus. Because that’s where the money is.