Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

How To Reach Younger Donors

I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Salvation Army Southern Territory’s Community Relations and Development Conference in Atlanta recently. One of the other speakers was Penelope Burk from Cygnus Applied Research. During her talk, she revealed the results of an extensive survey of younger donors to nonprofit organizations. Since most nonprofit leaders are concerned about developing next generation donors, her findings are important news. Here’s some highlights:

The donor survey was based on young donors, under 35 years old.  It found they are generally highly educated, engaged, and aren’t bothered by things older donors are bothered by. But they are too often dismissed – both for their potential giving and their insight.

The survey found that religious conviction matters.  Generally in the culture, the people who are most actively religious are:
45% of older donors
38% of middle aged donors
32% of younger donors

The survey confirmed that religious people are:
– More generous in all areas
– Stay loyal to organizations longer
– Volunteer more

As a result, the big question is – What will happen to philanthropy as religious conviction wanes?

Penelope recommended that integrating younger people onto nonprofit boards is critical.  But they’re often intimidated and dismissed by older board members. If the only time we pay attention to them is for money, they’ll soon lose interest. That’s why encouraging them to volunteer and asking their opinion is so critical.

If you don’t invest in young people when they’re young and unable to give a lot, you won’t attract them when they’re older.  This is why corporate brands spend so much money to reach younger audiences. They develop brand loyalties early and often stick with them for life.

How to engage younger donors:
Allow designated giving: Younger donors want to give to SPECIFIC projects or programs. They want to know where their money is going.
Trust is a huge issue to younger donors. They need proof that their gift is making a difference. If you’re not thanking them, and then showing them the results of their giving, they will go elsewhere. Read my recent post on Trust, and what it means to this generation.

At the end of her presentation, she made this projection:
By 2025, the high of the baby boom giving and leading cycle will be over. It won’t happen at once. In fact it’s already started and will continue to grow. But 5-7 years from now it will really hit.  At that time a big disconnect will happen. Younger people will make huge leaps in the workplace because massive groups of baby boomers will be leaving the workplace for retirement. As a result, “middle level” leaders will become a vanishing species, as younger people are needed to fill these upper level positions.

Simply put, that generation will go from Starbucks to the executive suite in one giant leap. Therefore we need to be preparing them now because this change will be a massive jolt across the country.

The question is – what is your organization doing right now to:
Reach younger donors? (Regardless of giving levels)
Encourage volunteerism? (Engage them early)
Listen to their ideas? (Make them part of the conversation)
Train them for future positions of authority? 

If you’re not actively involved in all four of these questions, it won’t be long before your organization will be left behind.

Related Articles


  1. While I also had the opportunity to attend this session, I really appreciated your synopsis. Your notes were much more detailed than mine!

    I remember being struck with the concept of working with donors before they would be considered donors. She is right. Earlier on in career paths, most college grads are concerned about loans, housing, and possibly a new family. Philanthropic giving is not one of the their first motivations. However, they are usual eager to get involved with boards or at least specific projects and give of their time. One of my own realizations is that people will give where they serve! It is not a new concept but it is difficult to learn when being brought up in a completely different system. The days of “give me money because I do good things” is over. People want to be engaged and see where the impact is happening.

    Thanks again for the review!

  2. Great stuff Phil. I would add that specifically for denominations, they need to start looking at their Brand Architecture to see if whether they’re acting more like a branded house rather than a house of brands. With the exception of the Salvation Army and maybe a few others, I’m finding many of these denominations put too great an emphasis on their front-facing brands, when in reality, the next generation could care less about belonging to a certain doctrinal subset and much more about results they can connect a direct impact to (as you have mentioned).

    1. ….which is a big reason some of the largest churches in these denominations are quietly leaving off the denomination name from their signs and other marketing expressions…
      Great thought CJ…

  3. Reminds me of the 10th of John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – “leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”

Leave a Reply

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker