AHP Connect Articles

AHP Connect delivers updates on industry news and research, educational and professional opportunities, best practices and other articles related to health care philanthropy.

Shifting expectations: Understanding generational giving

Susan Turner
Published:  06/03/2010

Originally published in the June 3, 2010 AHP Connect

No sooner had I folded my cap and gown than I received a solicitation letter from my university. Many of my classmates had yet to receive job offers; many more were working as interns or in entry-level, part-time jobs in retail stores and restaurants while hoping to break into their chosen fields of study. I wondered, “How much do younger donors actually give...and how effective is it to solicit this constituency?”

I recently spoke with Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc., to see if I could get some answers. Burk argues that the key is not to equate young donors’ modest giving with their true interest in philanthropy and volunteering. According to a study conducted by Burk’s firm last year, the total average giving in 2008 for those under 35 was $1,613―a mere 12 percent of the contributions of older donors. But the survey also revealed that younger donors are able to give more and are more likely than their older counterparts to:

  • give to a cause that they have never supported before
  • give through technology-driven appeals that are less costly to operate and which
    produce higher average gift values (such as online giving)
  • engage in fundraising programs where they give and volunteer or generate gifts from others at the same time (such as participating in a pledge-based community fundraising event)

Such insights raise the question, “Do young donors give substantially less because they can’t give more or because substantially less is expected of them?” In a volatile economy where the majority of older donors are being hard-hit financially, Burk points out that younger donors are less concerned about the loss of retirement savings or investment portfolios and are much more optimistic about the future.

So shift your expectations.

What about older donors? Burk shared that a preliminary analysis of Cygnus’s most recent donor study, indicates that, here too, we might need to alter our expectations. Whereas it used to be that only younger donors opted for electronic communication, 2010 marks a tipping point where preference for electronic over mailed communication has passed the 50 percent mark – even for donors over 65. Additionally, this year marks a shift in preference among donors under 65 in how they prefer to transact gifts, with a substantial majority choosing to contribute online, usually on not-for-profits’ websites. And, the number of donors over 65 who now give online is rising at the fastest rate, shared Burk, and charities should expect this to become their common means for transacting gifts giving within the next few years.

The point is, don’t let stereotypes or old information dictate your fundraising strategy. Instead, take a good look at the lives and preferences of your donors – whether they just finished finals or they are finally at the top or end of their careers – and shape your expectations accordingly.

NEWS  /12/06/12
The following is an excerpt from an article about the often-over-looked art of listening and why it’s important to take the time to hear what your donors are really saying.
NEWS  /06/02/17
News flash: people are getting older! As the demographics of our communities change, organizations should respond by optimizing the ways in which health care fundraisers communicate with donors.
NEWS  /10/11/18
The Charitable Giving Coalition’s member organizations, including AHP, conducted a survey in July 2018 to gauge the initial effect of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in December 2017.

Meet The Author

Susan Turner
AHP communications coordinator

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