Understanding Generational Giving Habits

How does your church fare when it comes to financial support from your members? Across the nation churches find themselves largely sustained by donations from older generations. How can you better engage the generosity of younger generations? You can begin with a broad examination of the financial habits of each age group.

Reports show that Boomers (born between 1946–1964) are carrying the largest load of the nation’s charitable contributions. They make up 23.6% of the population and are responsible for 43% of all benevolent giving.

Millennials (born between 1980–1997) make up the largest percentage of the U.S. population (25.9%), and a larger percentage of them give (84% of Millennials vs. 72% of Boomers). But in the end, Millennial giving only makes up 11% of total U.S. giving.

These two demographics receive a lot of attention, but wedged in between them (and often forgotten) is Generation X. Born between 1965–1979, this generation makes up 20.4% of the population and regularly contributes 20% of all charitable giving. The only problem is that only 59% of Gen Xers are actually giving—a smaller percentage than either Boomers or Millennials.

Making Sense of Boomers

The group that raised Boomers has come to be known as “the Greatest Generation.” This generation experienced the Great Depression and WWII. They understood what it meant make sacrifices for the greater good—and they passed on that sense of thrift, work ethic, and duty to the generation that followed them.

Incidentally, the Greatest Generation makes up less than 12% of America’s population, but nearly 90% of them give—and they’re responsible for more than a quarter of all charitable giving.

The Greatest Generation had kids, which became the Boomers—a generational monolith. They closed the modern age by shoring up the American infrastructure, enduring the Cold War, and making the United States one of the last superpowers in the world. The ’80s was an era of great wealth (many would even say opulence), and the qualities that Boomers inherited propelled them to greatness.

It stands to reason that Boomers are responsible for more than 40% of all benevolent giving in the States. They’re now between 54–72 years of age and one of the richest generations in history. Not only do they have more to give, but their shrewdness with money management has made them wise in taking advantage of the tax breaks associated with charitable giving.

Boomers are responsible for more than 40% of all benevolent giving in the States. They’re now between 54–72 years of age and one of the richest generations in history.

Rise of Millennial Giving

More has been said about Millennials in the last ten years than perhaps any previous generation. It makes total sense. They’ve come to represent changes in almost every area. We’ve shifted from the modern era to a postmodern era built entirely on information technology. They’ve grown up with changes that other generations are still struggling to adjust to. The world is different—and they see the world differently.

Many of the criticisms laid at the feet of Millennials are undeserved. They’ve been called lazy, self-absorbed, and entitled. Some of those criticism come from the generation’s abandonment of the status quo. In this new technological age, Millennials often find new methods and opportunities that haven’t been considered by those who came before.

The truth is that—next to the Greatest Generation—Millennials are the most charitable generation. A greater percentage of them give; they simply haven’t accumulated the wealth of Boomers or Generation X.

There is one difference in the giving habits of Millennials, however. They don’t give out of duty. They tend to give based on merit. Where past generations would give to certain charities loyally over many years, Millennials tend to be more cause oriented. The give when they feel moved to give and generally keep their options open.

The truth is that—next to the Greatest Generation—Millennials are the most charitable generation. A greater percentage of them give; they simply haven’t accumulated the wealth of Boomers or Generation X.

The Lost Generation

Crammed between these two generations, you’ll find Generation X. They’re a lost and overlooked generation. When the Boomer workforce was filling up with women, Gen Xers came to be known as “latchkey kids.” They’re the first real generation that returned from school to a key under the mat and an empty home.

They grew up absorbing all of the Boomer advice about how business worked and how to get ahead in life, but by the time they became adults, the world had changed. In many industries, Gen Xers find themselves getting phased out of upper management positions by more savvy Millennials. They’ve also fallen between the cracks because they’re a relatively small percentage of the population. There are fewer Gen Xers than either of the generations that came before or after.

Boomers and Millennials get all of the attention, mostly due to the fact that there’s nothing particularly unique about this lost Generation X. They’re the missing link between Boomers and Millennials. Almost everything about them falls in the middle of the generational extremes on either side of them.

Only $10 out of every $100 dollars given to charity comes from a member of Generation X. They’re the least charitable generation in America (in percentage of givers). A lot of the problem is that they’re just slipping under the radar. As a group, Gen Xers are nearly impossible to speak to. They’re a strange amalgamation of other generations, and there isn’t a message that makes them easy to reach.

Tips for Reaching Gen X and Millennials

This is important for information for churches to grab a hold of because a lion’s share of charitable giving is going to religious institutions—most of it in tithes and offerings.

As it stands right now, the church is in trouble when we lose Boomers. While many Millennials give, they’re not giving a lot, and they’re not giving consistently to religious organizations. Generation X, on the other hand, has not stepped up to the plate as inheritors of the Boomers’ burden.

Here are a couple suggestions for encouraging generosity among these latter two generations:

1. Show them results.

The church can no longer rely on expectation. Unlike the Greatest and Boomer generations, Gen Xers and Millennials are not motivated to give to simply maintain the status quo. They want to see results. They want to know how their sacrifice is making a difference. Make a concerted effort to help people see how their giving is having an impact.

2. Focus on retention.

The number one goal is helping people understand the importance of regular consistent giving. This means encouraging them to see the value of generosity as a discipline. It also means using digital giving solutions as a way to promote recurring giving as an option.

3. Encourage volunteerism.

The key to encouraging generosity among these generations is emotional involvement. They are much quicker to give when they’re invested in the cause and work. By making volunteerism an organizational priority, you’re making it easier for people to give.

Don’t Forget Discipleship

Ultimately, every discipleship and mentoring program needs to help people understand how spirituality impacts their financial decisions. The best way to do this is through the example and encouragement that comes from a one-on-one relationship.

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