Blackbaud recently published a white paper by Mark Rovner titled, The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generations Y, X, Baby Boomers and Matures. The study is based on findings from an online survey of US donors conducted in May 2013 and looks at the behavior of four generations: Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1995); Generation X (born 1965 – 1980); Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964); and Matures (born 1945 or earlier).

There has been a lot of interest in the fundraising community about the report due in large part to the appealing infographic created to increase readership. Although it is meant to serve as a practical guide for fundraisers there are a few nuggets in here that can help nonprofit communicators create more effective communication strategies.

The key takeaway for nonprofit communicators is that multichannel communication is a necessity but the ideal mix varies from generation to generation.



Does your communication channel mix include traditional media for younger donors and social media for older ones? Because it should. It is wrong to believe Generation Y and X are only interested in online communication and that you can continue to reach the Boomers and Matures simply through traditional print methods. The study showed that both Gen X and Y believe direct mail can be an effective communication method. And we know that Boomers and Matures embraced some form of online communication years ago.

All generations welcome a mix of online and offline communications but how does that mix differ according to the study?


How each generation likes to stay in touch with nonprofits

Gen Y & Gen X: They like to stay connected through your website, emails, and face to face events.

Boomers & Matures: They also like your emails and attending face to face events, but in addition, they respond to your direct mail appeals.


How to engage each generation with your nonprofit

Generation Y: Ask them to sign your online petion or upload videos.

Generation X: Invite them to look at your photos, contribute to online forums, or participate in a live chat.

Boomers: They are more likely to sign an online petition than Gen X and are just as likely to listen to an audio podcast as Gen X.

Matures: They likely won’t contribute to online forums, chat live with your experts, and are even less likely to upload your videos, but they will sign your online petion and they can’t resist the power of online videos.


How each generation uses social media

Generation Y: They are the trailblazers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Generation X: They will follow you on Facebook but are not that interested in sharing your stories.

Boomers: They are starting to follow you but don’t ask them to fundraise on social media.

Matures: There is little chance they will follow your Twitter feed or go anywhere near your Google+ circle.


Additional insights

As the Blackbaud report reminds us, “the advent of television didn’t kill radio. Likewise, Pinterest® and Twitter® are hardly the slayers of direct mail.” Keep that in mind the next time you sit down to write your latest communications plan along with these remaining thoughts:

  • Word of mouth is still the oldest trick in the communicator’s book and one of the most powerful marketing tools. Generation Y are very comfortable talking about your cause if you ask them to and are fine with receiving information from their friends.
  • Generation Y expects nonprofits to be transparent when communicating about their financial statements and demand that organizations demonstrate their impact and effectiveness.
  •  Text messages are a low communications priority across the generations.

Above all, listen to your supporters. They will tell you if their interests match the generational trend or if they are the exception to the rule.


Note for Canadian readers: A new Canadian study has been commissioned by Blackbaud and hjc: The 2013 Next Generation of Canadian Giving Study. This study explores the charitable giving and communication preferences of four generations of Canadian donors: Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Civics. The full study is not yet available, but you can sign up to request your copy now.


Suzanne Hallsworth

Suzanne Hallsworth

VP, Development & Communications at Oakville Hospital Foundation
Suzanne Hallsworth is the VP, Development & Communications for the Oakville Hospital Foundation. In her role, she leads the annual giving, community fundraising, and special events teams and develops marketing communication strategies to help the Foundation reach its fundraising goals. Suzanne has been working in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade following an earlier career in the book publishing industry.
Suzanne Hallsworth
Suzanne Hallsworth