Research | February 15, 2022

Comparing and contrasting: How different generations give

Each generation brings unique experiences, giving habits, and preferences.

These preferences are crucial to understanding how individuals’ support can be optimized and to recognizing one’s own habits as a donor. 

For charities, catering to each generation through multi-channel marketing can drastically improve outreach and fundraising efforts. This is best done through donor segmentation, which allows for different strategies for different types of supporters, like first-time millennial donors, repeat donors from the Silent Generation, or Gen X volunteers. 

As a donor, it can help to be aware of your own giving and how these might be reflective of your own values, background, and habits. If you are looking to rally others around a cause or are leading a charitable campaign or organization, these details can help you cultivate your cross-generational outreach strategy to reach:

  1. The Silent Generation
  2. Baby boomers
  3. Generation X
  4. Millennials
  5. Generation Z 

We’ll share a few facts and figures on:

  1. How to define each generation 
  2. Charitable giving trends according to different ages
  3. Which generation donates the most to charity
  4. How to engage different generations of donors 

If you’re ready to improve your understanding of the different generations, let’s dive in! 

The Silent Generation

This generation, also known as the “Matures” or the “Civics,” consists of individuals who were born between 1928 and 1945. They lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Currently, these individuals are between the ages of 77 and 94 years old. While they are a shrinking generation, members give the most per capita each year and donate to the largest number of charities. 

Most effective outreach methods

This generation still prefers more traditional outreach and donation methods, such as:

  • Direct mail. This generation is most likely to be responsive to appeals via direct mail. Because this is the method they grew up with, it remains the one that they are most comfortable and familiar with. A personalized donation letter can make a connection.
  • Physical checks for donations. Similarly, this generation prefers to make donations through physical checks that are mailed in or given in person, versus making donations online. On Charitable Impact, you have the option to give in a number of ways, including by credit card, cheque, or with non-cash assets like publicly traded securities.
  • Phone calls. While some younger generations prefer to not interact via phone calls, this generation is still quite responsive to this means of outreach. 

Planned giving is a donation method that is perfectly suited to older donors. Most members of the Silent Generation are retired.

Planned giving is a donation method that is perfectly suited to older donors.

You may reach donors who are in a very steady phase of their financial situation, which allows them to more easily set up a planned giving fund. Because of this, donors of the Silent Generation often appreciate when charities develop strong one-on-one relationships with them. 

The baby boomers

The baby boomer generation consists of individuals born between 1946 and 1964. Baby boomers are between the ages of 58 and 76 years old. While they only make up approximately 28% of Canada’s population, they collectively contributed 41% of all money donated in 2017 according to Blackbaud’s study on generational giving in Canada.

The baby boomer generation continues to be one of the most giving and financially generous generations.

Getting in touch with baby boomers

While we tend to think of the millennial and Gen Z generations as tech-savvy, baby boomers also have preferences for virtual communications and donations: 

  • Email appeals. A weekly email newsletter is likely to be read by this generation, which favours receiving updates and donation asks via email. Baby boomers greatly value individuality over conformity, so personalized emails are a must!
  • Online donation with easy-to-use forms. While many members of this generation likely still have checkbooks, they are comfortable making online donations and sometimes even prefer it!
  • Create a story around your giving strategy to help attract more donors to your cause.  

Thanking is key to reaching this generation

Baby boomers are part of a rich and transformative history, growing up during the Civil Rights and women’s liberation movements. They are often characterized by their strong work ethic, goal-setting attitude, and their tendency to value relationships. As such, they tend to be loyal supporters; donor stewardship and retention practices are particularly important to them. 

Donors generally like to be thanked. Showing proper appreciation to the baby boomer generation can go an especially long way. 

Appreciation for giving is important to baby boomers.

Setting up recurring gifts is an easy way to create continuous support. Are you looking to bring more ease and convenience to your giving? With Charitable Impact, you can schedule recurring deposits to your Impact Account and recurring gifts to charity. This helps make your giving a regular habit that doesn’t get forgotten when life gets busy. 

Gen X

Generation X consists of individuals who were born between 1965 and 1976. Currently, members of this gen are between the ages of 46 and 57. In 2018, Gen Xers made up 25% of all of Canada’s giving, and more than 15% said they planned to increase their giving. 

One study suggested that Gen Xers may be approaching their prime giving years. Giving of one’s time and talents is also important to this generation.

Gen Xers also have among the highest volunteer rates, sitting at a little over 29% according to U.S. estimates. According to Statistics Canada, this resourceful generation makes up 44% of all volunteers over the age of 15—second only to iGen/Gen Zers at 52%. 

Gen Xers have among the highest volunteer rates.

How Gen X likes to interact with giving

Despite Gen Z getting a reputation for being the change-maker generation, many related preferences and expectations actually began taking form with Gen Xers, such as: 

  • Social media for fundraising. Because more than 88% of Generation X is on Facebook, peer-to-peer fundraisers hosted on Facebook can be very effective with this generation. If you are a Gen X donor, you may have partaken in setting up an online or social media fundraiser for an organization. Or, you may have asked friends to
    donate for your birthday. With Charitable Impact, individuals and charities can start or join Giving Groups to rally others around a cause.
  • Transparency from organizations. Younger generations are often more recognized for their distrust of corporations, but a desire for organizations to be more transparent with their business practices seems to have started with Gen X. This generation is willing to volunteer their time and donate their money, but they want to know what is being done with their contributions. Building trust through effective communication is key.
  • Volunteer opportunities. In order to make use of this generation’s penchant for volunteer work, volunteer opportunities should be widely available and advertised. This generation is often more willing to donate time than money, possibly due to unmet expectations of financial transparency. (Good to keep in mind that volunteering can often lead to giving charitably down the road.) In order to help tie volunteering to giving, it’s important for charities to make volunteer grant information easily accessible to empower Gen X volunteers to make a bigger impact without reaching into their own pockets.

Gen X is an important generation to cater to in fundraising efforts. They still have many years to increase their giving and make an impact. As a transitional generation, they are also receptive to newer and more tech-forward fundraising efforts. 


The millennial generation (also known as Gen Y) consists of individuals who were born between 1977 and 1995. Currently, they make up approximately 27% of the total Canadian population. 

Out of all of the generations, millennials are most involved in advocacy and engage with causes through advocacy more than any other means of support. For this generation and the younger ones, social media and an online presence are quite critically important. Millennials and younger have the highest social media response rates.

While they may not have as much to give as older generations, millennials are apt to donate and give charitably. They may not give money as much or as often as other Canadians, but they donate their time and material goods. Plus, they see giving as a way to express leadership skills—as such, they may be more apt to seek public recognition for their generosity.

Key characteristics of millennial donors

 Other common characteristics of millennials include: 

  • Being most influenced to donate from social media. Millennials have been on social media for about half of their lives and mostly use social media to connect with family and friends (although they may also scroll just to kill time).
  • Donating more to causes that someone in their network has already donated to. Among the generations, millennials are most likely to be influenced by recommendations from friends and those in their circles.
  • Having the highest response rates to text messages, along with Gen Z. Millennials admit to texting a lot on any given day.

While most generations donate the largest allocation of giving dollars to places of worship, this trend falters with millennials, who tend to give the most to health charities. 

For millennials, it is critical that they trust the organizations they are donating to and that the charity has a compelling mission or cause.

For millennials, it is critical that they trust the organizations they are donating to.

Additionally, while only 22% of millennials have had a donation matched through their employer, 75% said they would be interested in making a matched donation. Transparency is vital to engaging millennial employees.

Gen Z

Generation Z (also sometimes referred to as iGen) consists of individuals who were born between 1996 and 2012. Currently, these individuals are between the ages of 10 and 26.

While many Gen Zers are not at an age yet to make their own donations, they are rapidly becoming one of the most socially conscious generations. Learning to engage supporters from this generation can make a significant difference for charities in the years to come.

Gen Z is rapidly becoming one of the most socially conscious generations.

This generation is the first to be digital natives, with little or no memory of a time before cell phones were ubiquitous.

Matching interests to giving among Gen Z

Gen Z is most interested in: 

  • Comfort with technology and preference for tech-forward outreach methods. Members of Gen Z easily transition between virtual and online experiences and ways of communicating.
  • Strong preference for mobile giving. Just like millennials, Gen Zers spend a considerable amount of time on their mobile devices. But it’s important to note, that this generation may not want to be always reachable.
  • Interest in environmental concerns. While they may not yet be able to give, younger generations are curious about and looking for solutions to help the environment.
  • A desire for increased accountability and transparency from organizations. This generation has been categorized as “hypercognitive” because they are adept at collecting and analyzing information. They greatly value transparency and honesty from brands and organizations they interact with.

Effective outreach to the youngest set of donors

To engage this quick-moving and norm-challenging generation, organizations should be prepared to meet their needs. Innovation, convenience, security, and escapism are strong trends among Gen Z. Offering convenient and reliable systems and services can be a big appeal to this age group.

This primarily means an increase in tech-forward outreach, such as text-to-give, as well as authentic transparency and social good practices. Gen Zers are constantly revered for their tech-savvy social and technical skills and their ability and ease to connect with others on a global level. 

While not all members of Gen Z are of an age to be significant contributors to charities, crafting outreach programs that help educate youth on the work of charities can be beneficial for the future. For many parents of Gen Z children, learning how to share their values of giving with their kids will make a lasting impact on their future sense of philanthropy.

Despite their differences, all generations want to give to causes with strong missions that they care about and to feel appreciated for their support. Organizations that make an effort to connect to supporters through their mission statement and to exemplify it in their work are more likely to cultivate a donor base of generous supporters in the future


This is a guest blog post by John Killoran, an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations. 

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