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The Millennial Mindset: What Gets Them to Give?

December 15, 2023

April 6, 2018

Written By:

Zack Shockley

Though often labeled as lazy and self-absorbed, millennials are proving to be a much more giving than their stereotypes suggest. Nonprofits large and small have long been infatuated with the generation, but many are still struggling to reach them.

According to research by Blackbaud, 60% of millennials give an average of $481 to charity per year. That may not stack up particularly well to the dollar amount given by 59% of Generation X ($732) and 72% of baby boomers ($1,212). But millennials make up the largest demographic in the United States, so connecting with them could lead to massive returns for any organization. However, it’s important to understand that they differ from previous generations in how they donate.


Donating habits of baby boomers (1946-1964) seem to be just that: habit. Unlike millennials, whose donations spike after crises and disasters, boomers are regular and steady contributors to their charities, helping them combine for a respectable 43% of total giving. They view things like community service and donating blood as cultural norms and continue to lead those areas (60% of blood donations come from those over 40).

Much of the donating styles for Generation X (1969-1979) have been inherited from baby boomers. But as they become more comfortable with today’s technology, their habits are beginning to mimic those of the tech-savvy millennials. Overall, Generation X makes up about 20% of total giving.

Despite having the largest population, millennials account for just 11% of total giving. Millennials (1981-1995) are an outcome-based bunch. They like to see exactly where their time and money is going and crave the concrete evidence that shows how their contributions are making a difference.

Millennials enjoy instant gratification and are able to earn it from online crowd funding sites like GoFundMe that set specific goals. Every time a donation is made, they see their contribution push the total toward the set goal. Social media platforms like Facebook are great organization tools for orchestrating volunteer events. The ability to check-in to specific locations and share photos allows millennials to share their beliefs while earning the satisfaction of contributing to their causes.


The good news is that millennials are reachable. But what motivates them to give? And what are the best approaches to engage them in ways that can change their behavior?


Millennials are constantly connected via smart phones and have the ability to influence thousands of their peers through social platforms, so it makes sense that social media is a good place to start.  

Tap into the social power that they possess by telling stories, posting engaging photos, showing where their efforts go and how they make a difference. Share your results with them so that they can retweet and repost to the masses. Millennials are more likely to donate to a cause that they’ve heard about through friends or family, so leverage word-of-mouth marketing by distributing your most shareable content and let them do the rest.


Millennials donate the same way they buy: impulsively. They’re used to making spontaneous decisions, from getting new music on Spotify to making purchases with two-day shipping on Amazon. This impulsive behavior translates into the ways that they donate. They contribute when they are inspired. So, if you’re looking to cash in on the generation, it’s crucial that you make it easy for them to give at a moment’s notice.

The younger generations gravitate towards easy donation styles like online platforms (47%), add-on to retail purchases (53%) and mobile (62%), so it’s important that your website is optimized for mobile. Recurring giving options can work as an easy way to keep them giving more than just an impulse-donation.


For nonprofits interested in more than monetary donations, going straight to the source is a great way to drive results. For example, according to NBC News, fewer than 10% of blood donations come from those aged 23-29. Yet over the past decade, blood banks have increased donations by hosting high school and college blood drives. This makes it easier for millennials to donate while offering a chance to spread the word socially with photo opportunities and hashtags.  


As a group that loves tangible results, it’s important that they know what type of impact their efforts can have. Once millennials are armed with the facts, they are much more likely to take action. Brands like TOMS and Warby Parker have worked this idea into their identity, each pledging to donate one pair of shoes or glasses, respectively, to someone in need with each pair purchased. Millennials gravitate toward this business model, not only because they enjoy the brand and the product and the fact that they’re giving back, but also because they know exactly what type of impact they are making with every purchase.


One-and-done donations aren’t going to get the job done. Retention is key for millennials and they’re a group that is ready to become regular contributors. The best way to ensure they stick around is to keep in touch with them.

Many millennials lack the financial resources to make significant single donations. Instead, they’re often willing to contribute smaller amounts more frequently. If they have signed up to make a monthly donation, thank them each time or offer gifts to show that their generosity is appreciated. If they are one-time donors, follow up and let them know their first donation made a difference, but there is still work to be done. In either case, show them where their contributions are going and highlight the difference they are making. Re-engage with them often so that you are staying top-of-mind. They value relationships and transparency and they’re accustomed to staying connected, so use this connection to build and maintain loyalty.

Just like targeting any group, to successfully reach millennials you first must understand their values and habits. Recognizing the behaviors of this up-and-coming generation can be important to the success of your nonprofit.

While stereotypes surrounding the millennial generation may carry some truth, at the end of the day, they’re willing and able to be generous donators and volunteers. But as a new generation, they require you to create new techniques to engage them in your cause.  

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