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Boomers Lead Generation Giving, But Younger Groups Showing Potential

(Sept. 12, 2005) A new study reports that the baby boomer generation now gives more to charities than any other generation, while younger donors are showing a stronger than expected proclivity to support nonprofit organizations.

The study, Navigating the Generational Divide in Fundraising and Advocacy, was based on data from an online survey of 2,333 American adults and conducted by Craver, Mathews, Smith and Company and The Prime Group. The survey looked at giving to both charities and political causes.

Boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, now give an average of $1,361 annually, compared to $1,138 for older Americans. 'Late' boomer donors (those born between 1956 and 1964) give 21 percent more than their older cousins.

Thirty-three percent of boomers said they plan on giving more in the future. In contrast, older donors in pre-boomer generations were more likely to reduce their giving in the future (26 percent) than increase it (just 12 percent).

Like their older counterparts, boomers give about 75 percent of their contributions to traditional charitable causes with the rest supporting issue advocacy and political campaigns.

Younger Generations Showing Strong Potential

Perhaps the most important findings for fundraisers related to younger donors, those in generations X and Y (born after 1964). Those donors are already contributing an average of $791 annually, and 56 percent say they plan to give more in the future.

'The center of the fundraising universe has indeed shifted [to boomers],' says Roger Craver, president of Craver, Mathews, Smith and Company. 'What may even be more important long term is that the so-called Generations X and Y are signaling significant potential, contrary to the conventional belief that these post-boomers may be 'lost' generations in terms of giving.'

Members of generations X and Y seem more interested in advocacy and politics than their older counterparts, with 41 percent of their contributions going to those types of causes. They also have less interest in established charities and are more open to working with groups they have not heard about.

Issues by Generation

Generational differences about which issues are the most important show up strongly among boomers and pre- and post-boomers.

Pre-boomers (the oldest donors) are most concerned about a wide range of future issues facing the United States. Their top causes are the environment, gun owners' rights, human rights and tax reduction.

Only one 'future challenge' was rated as very important by more than 40 percent of boomers: the incapacity of the American political system. According to the study, boomers are less concerned than their older donors about religious extremism, children's education, violence in America, hostility toward America and a more diverse U.S. population.

The exception is boomer women, who tend to be very focused on children's issues, the environment, hostility in the world and a breakdown of the political system.

Younger post-boomers are the least interested in major national challenges and emphasize more 'personal' issues such as human rights, family values and civil liberties.

Going Online?

Despite the attention paid to online giving, few of the study's participants had much experience with the medium.

  • Three-quarters of all respondents have never given in response to an email solicitation, compared with just 37 percent who have not responded to a direct-mail solicitation.
  • While 19 percent of post-boomers have made an online contribution, only 13 percent of boomers and 8 percent of pre-Boomers have given online.
  • Only 15 percent of post-boomers prefer email solicitations over regular mail.

'But there's good news, too,' says Craver. 'The prime donors, who tend to earn over $100,000 per year and who are college graduates, are already giving online at a significantly greater rate to charities, causes and campaigns.'

About the Study

Navigating the Generational Divide in Fundraising and Advocacy is part of the ongoing Donor Trends Project, a collaborative effort of Craver, Mathews, Smith and Company and The Prime Group.

For more information about the study, including an executive summary, click here.

Craver, Mathews, Smith and Company is a direct response fundraising firm located in Arlington, Va.

The Prime Group is communications and marketing consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., and Concord, Mass.

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