Is your organization thinking about reaching younger supporters? For some of you, younger means Baby Boomers; for others it means Gen X or Y. What might that mean for your communications strategy?

Let's try to look at the big picture. Lumping hundreds of millions of people into categories always creates stereotypes. But for purposes of understanding some of the macro shifts that are taking place today, I have boiled down how each of the four generations approaches philanthropy into just one word.

Generation Age in 2013 One Word Describing How They Relate to Nonprofits
Matures 68 and older Duty
Boomers 49 – 67 Identity
Generation X 33 - 48 Entrepreneurial
Generation Y 22 - 32 Community


Matures are more likely to give out of a sense of responsibility and duty. That's what good people do. Giving back is important. Giving to charity is what's right.

Boomers are more likely to give because it fits with their personal sense of identity, or who they are. They want to make a difference and believe that they are change makers, and they see themselves as having a role to play with the charities they support.

Generation Xers are more likely to give if they can see a problem being solved. In other words, they are entrepreneurial about their philanthropy. It's less personal, and more about getting things done.

Generation Yers are more likely to give if they feel like they are part of a community of change. They see themselves as connected global citizens who are confident that together they can correct injustices of the past and make the world a better place.

Of course, there is some overlap. Generation Y shares a sense of civic duty with the Matures, are politically savvy like the Boomers, and value work-life balance like Gen X.  And these trends that won't apply evenly, or at all, to many individuals (you can certainly find 20-year-olds who have more in common with their own great-grandmas than their college roommates).

But it's undeniable that the way people approach philanthropy is changing. Leaving aside the age groups for a moment, take a look again at just these four words, in order:







What kinds of change or progression do you see in these words? How might that affect your communications?

Here's one way to look at it. If people are giving primarily out of a sense of duty, then at some level, it really doesn't matter how good or bad your communications to them are. If you can present a need reasonably well, people will feel that sense of duty to respond to that need.

I've heard many a fundraiser with thirty years of experience or more talk about how much easier it used to be to raise money. Now those same fundraisers talk about how much more competition there is, both from other charities and for people's attention. They also talk about how donors' expectations have changed.

The rise of "donor-centered fundraising" -- a term coined by Penelope Burk  --  over the last decade is no coincidence when you look at the second word in the list: identity. Donors respond to communications that are about them, and their role in solving the problem. Donors also say, in numerous surveys, that they want to hear about results and success stories from the charities they support, which sounds like entrepreneurial thinking. And largely thanks to social media, we can feel like we are part of many different communities with whom we share our various passions, including the causes we believe in and the charities that we support.

Suddenly, those "way we've always done it" communications aren't enough anymore. That doesn't mean you need to drop everything you've always done and replace it with something new. But it does mean you need to take a hard look at what you are doing now, adjust what's worth keeping, get rid of what's not, and add in what's missing.