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Generational Patterns in Philanthropy

Grace Bonifacio July 12, 2016

Last week we addressed different giving trends. While many of these studies suggest a variety of driving factors that explain why individuals donate, all of them illustrate a significant difference in how each age demographic exercises philanthropy.

In this post, we’re looking at studies that focus on the giving trends of future philanthropists: millennials. By understanding what empowers this demographic to give, we may find better opportunities to encourage them to be changemakers in their communities.


Case of the Boomers
Baby boomers give to a wide variety of charitable sectors. They represent 32% of the donor base in Canada. They contribute a total of $4.7 billion of charitable donations, with individuals donating an average of $942 per year.

Aging members of this population often retire mortgage-free and without any dependents. Their relative financial stability and free time allows them to allocate more of their monetary funds to charitable causes.

Boomers also see donating as the best way to support charitable causes. Out of the various age groups surveyed, 56% of boomers put more focus on monetary donations than volunteering, promoting causes by word-of-mouth, in-kind donations, or fundraising.   

As the youngest boomers are only in their 50s, it is apparent that this demographic will remain the largest contributor in the charitable sector for some time.


The Case for Millennials
While some studies have addressed the giving patterns of other generations, millennials have been in the spotlight. Though they are considered the future of philanthropic giving, they contribute the least amount of donations (15%) to charitable causes.

Some studies suggest that this is due to experiencing the direct consequences of financial instability and recessions, and a hyper-competitive and challenging job market. Because of these factors, many millennials have less trust in both private and public institutions.

This inevitably translates to a different attitude when it comes to donating to charities: only 30% of millennials believe that donating money is the best way to support charitable causes. Though they do not donate as much as boomers, 35% of millennials exercise philanthropy through volunteerism, and 14% see the value of word-of-mouth advocacy.

The way this young generation engages with philanthropic causes also differs from older generations. Social media is a valuable engagement channel for this tech-savvy generation. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook connect individuals with organizations that are associated with causes they care about, which can ultimately cultivate a stronger relationship with an organization.

Donating online is a primary method of contribution among millennials. Their practice of word-of-mouth advocacy and connection to the digital world has made them the perfect demographic for online crowdfunding platforms.


What we can learn
Although older age groups surpass millennials in donating, this age group is crucial in shaping the future of philanthropy.

Their life experiences have shaped them to have less trust in institutions and this challenges organizations (both charitable and corporate) to be more accountable, transparent, and fair. Organizations have the opportunity to exercise and implement corporate responsibility in different and more engaging ways.

Volunteerism is becoming just as important as monetary donations. Contributing time and energy directly to causes can encourage deeper connections with charities: one that is more tangible than donations. Encouraging this form of giving with the next generation creates a concept of philanthropy that goes beyond monetary contributions, into something more universal and long lasting.

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