Giving Nature of the Generations

My little sister, at the young age of 18, decided to defer starting her BSW for a year to go spend 8 months volunteering with children in Ghana, India, and Vietnam. I was blown away when she first told me and I’m still amazed that she did it. She is far more mature and socially responsible than I was at her age.

This got me thinking: are there differences between the generations in regards to volunteering and donating to charity? Taking a look on sites like Facebook or Twitter, Millennials are certainly talking the talk, but are they walking the walk?

Statistics Canada released a study Volunteering in Canada that looked at exactly this.

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What they have found is that a higher percentage of Millennials volunteer compared to their Boomer counterparts, however Boomers dedicate more time. I have to throw in a caveat that many high schools now require students to complete volunteer hours to graduate. If we take that into account, it appear that Gen-X is actually the most likely to volunteer. Research released by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows similar numbers from the United States.

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Why are the Gen-X’s leading the pack and what’s preventing the other generations from volunteering? I found an article by Robert J. Rosenthal, Director of Communications, VolunteerMatch titled Gen-Xers Are Propping Up U.S. Volunteering Rates.

One of the biggest influencers to whether the youth volunteer was if their parents or other family members are also involved in volunteering. We mimic our parents and role models and it is important that we remember that as we raise our children or work with kids.

Interestingly, Robert warns against focusing recruitment efforts to Gen-X’s as they are a small cohort comparative to Boomers and Millennials. Realistically, Boomers are not far behind Gen-X’s, with most collecting, sorting, distributing, or serving food.

With crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, surely Millennials must be leading the pack when it comes giving right?

Sadly, no. With 60% of Millennials donating to charity, more of them give than Gen-X, but both pale with the 88% of Boomers giving. Boomers make up 43% of total giving while Millennials only make up 11% according to research released by the Canadian provider of nonprofit software and services, Blackbaud. The average annual contribution of Gen-Y is $481 while their Boomer counterparts give over $1000. They also found that Gen-Y is less likely to support local social services, environmental causes but are more likely to give to children’s charities, human rights, and international causes, both of which have found champions in the online space.

To be fair, the current economy and paying off education debts has not given Gen-Y a lot of disposable income to give. They do raise a huge amount of awareness to issues (KONY 2012 comes to mind), but we want to be able to enjoy our lives and live the lives we want. That being said, United Nations Foundation research showed that nearly 90% of Gen-Y’s gave in the two years they examined. This leads me, and many others, to believe that Gen-Y wants to give but are not yet at the point in their lives where they are comfortable in giving in large amounts. The  Millennial Impact Report 2012  (which is very well written and I strongly suggest you read) supports this and offers a number of suggestions for charities. After all, Millennials are crucial to the future success of charities and not-for-profits!

65% of Gen-Y’s learn about non-profits from their website (especially the “About Us” section) and 67% have interacted with a non-profit on Facebook. This is particularly true if the non-profit through cool events or shared relevant news. From this, we can deem it is important to appeal to the generations with information that is relevant to them. Even though Gen-Y does not have money to give, they are fantastic at raising money on non-profit’s behalf, with 71% tapping family or friends (source). The biggest 2 reasons why Gen-Y doesn’t get involved with non-profits? They don’t have time and they haven’t been asked. If you are able to inspire and get the attention of Gen-Y, 42% will act in the moment of inspiration. Eliminating barriers and making it easy for Gen-Y to get involved also increases the likelihood of them contributing. The biggest one? Not knowing where our money is going and how it is being used. Be transparent, be cool, make us excited to be part of your cause and we’ll join you.

As mentioned earlier, more give when they see their parents giving. I want to re-emphasize the importance of talking about the importance of giving. We can teach our children about how important it is to give to those who are less fortunate. Research suggests that Gen-Y entitlement is the result of Boomer parenting. If this is the case, then we can certainly teach our kids to be a contributor to non-profits.


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