In North America, the act of giving back to the community and supporting charitable causes has always been deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric.

From local community initiatives to global humanitarian efforts, charitable giving plays a significant role in addressing social issues and fostering positive change. However, the preferences and motivations for giving vary across different generations.

When we look at the giving landscape, it’s easy to focus on older donors, specifically members of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Together they account for almost 70% of total dollars given in the United States.* Their average individual gifts are the highest among all generations, so securing even one donation from a member of these generations is a huge win.

It’s reasonable to focus a lot of your outreach on these larger donors, but keep in mind members of Gen X and elder Millennials are rapidly increasing their giving, and younger donors like Gen Z are forming their preferences for giving as we speak. In the short-term, older donors are going to give the most money, but younger generations are more likely to give their time, in volunteer hours, serve on an organization’s board of directors, and have connections to corporate giving opportunities.

Below you’ll find a breakdown of overall giving behaviors, some statistics about each generation’s giving, how they like to be contacted and their preferred giving method. You’ll see that there is significant overlap between generations, meaning you can develop campaigns that are optimized for multiple types of donors and include more than one way to give.

The Silent Generation (1925-1945)

88% give to charity, donating an annual average of $1,367 across 6.2 organizations**

11.8% of population and account for 26% of total US giving*

The Silent Generation, born between the mid-1920s and early 1940s, is a remarkable group that has experienced significant historical events and societal transformations. As they approach or enjoy their retirement years, many from this generation are actively involved in philanthropy, making valuable contributions to charitable causes. Silent Generation donors value personal connections and traditional forms of communication. They are known for their loyalty to the causes they support. Once they find a nonprofit that aligns with their values, they are more likely to remain committed long term. Some of the primary ways they give include: faith-based giving, bequests and legacy giving, and in-person events and fundraisers.

Preferred contact methods: Voice calls, direct mail
Preferred donation methods: Direct mail and voice calls

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

72% give to charity, donating an annual average of $1,212 across an average of 4.5 organizations**

23.6% of the US population, but account for 43% of total US giving*

As one of the most philanthropic generations, Baby Boomers have had a considerable impact on the charitable sector. Having lived through significant historical events, many Boomers feel a sense of responsibility to give back to society. They often prefer to support traditional, well-established organizations with a proven track record of impact. Religious institutions, universities, and healthcare charities tend to receive substantial contributions from this generation. Baby Boomers are also more likely to engage in offline giving, such as writing checks or attending fundraising events.

24% of Boomers say they were promoted to give an online donation because of direct mail they received*

Preferred contact methods: Voice calls, Text or SMS messaging, email, social media posts
Preferred donation methods: Online giving

Generation X (1965-1980)

Average annual gift of $732 across four charities.
Lead in annual volunteer hours served.++

20.4% of US population and account for 22% of giving in the US*

Generation X, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials, has its distinct approach to philanthropy. This generation is characterized by its pragmatism and independence. They value transparency and are more inclined to research organizations before donating. Gen Xers often prefer to support causes that directly impact their communities. Environmental issues, education, and children’s welfare are some of the areas that resonate with this generation. They are comfortable with both online and offline giving, utilizing various digital platforms and crowdfunding campaigns.

Email prompted 31% of online donations made by Gen Xers*

Preferred contact methods: Voice calls, Text or SMS messaging, email, social media posts
Preferred donation methods: Online giving

Millennials (1981-1996)

84% give to charity, donating an annual average of $481 across 3.3 organizations**

25.9% of US population but account for only 11% of giving in the US*

Millennials, often praised for their strong sense of social responsibility, are reshaping the charitable landscape. They prioritize causes that align with their values and are highly engaged in peer-to-peer fundraising. Online giving is their forte, with crowdfunding platforms and social media serving as powerful tools to raise awareness and funds. Millennials also value a sense of personal connection with the causes they support, preferring to donate to smaller, grassroots organizations and social enterprises.

47% of Millennials gave through an organization’s website in 2016*

Preferred contact methods: Text or SMS messaging and social media posts
Preferred donation methods: Online giving+

Generation Z (1997-2012)

Prefer smaller, grassroots causes and organizations.***
Donate their time and spread the word on social media.

Often referred to as the Activist Generation, Gen Z is just starting to make its mark on charitable giving. They are highly tech-savvy, having grown up with smartphones and social media. This generation is more likely to participate in virtual events, such as online charity streams and challenges. Gen Z tends to support causes that focus on diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. They are drawn to interactive and gamified approaches to philanthropy, seeking immediate and visible impact.

59% of Gen Zs are inspired to donate to charity by a message/image they saw on social media.*

Preferred contact and donation methods: Gen Z is developing these preferences now!

Generation Alpha (Born after 2012)

While it may be too early to gauge Generation Alpha’s philanthropic preferences accurately, early signs indicate a focus on global issues. With unprecedented access to information, they are more aware of the world’s challenges at a younger age. Their parents’ values and online engagement will likely shape their approach to charitable giving.

The charitable giving landscape in North America is continually evolving, driven by the unique preferences and motivations of different generations. The Silent Generation’s loyalty, Baby Boomers’ traditional giving, Gen X’s pragmatic approach, Millennials’ tech-savvy engagement, and Gen Z’s emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability are all contributing to a diverse and dynamic philanthropic ecosystem. Understanding these generational differences is crucial for charities and nonprofits to tailor their approaches, effectively engage donors, and create a lasting positive impact on society. Ultimately, regardless of the generation, the spirit of giving remains alive and well in North America, fostering hope for a brighter and more compassionate future.

Tracking donors and tailoring campaigns to their giving preferences is pretty much impossible without a robust nonprofit Constituent Management System (CRM). A nonprofit CRM will give you a 360 degree view of donors including: total donations given over time, interactions with your staff, communication history, and more.

Data sources: