Pave the Pipeline: Why Gen X and Millennials Matter

There’s little doubt that the pandemic has altered our lives. But its effect on younger people tells a new story, one that planned giving fundraisers should pay attention to.

The surprise: In a 2021 study done by Caring.com, younger adults are now more likely than middle-aged adults to have a will. This is a first in six years of research. The survey of 2,500 people found that:

  • The number of young adults with a will increased 63% year over year.
  • 18-34 year olds are more likely to have a will than 35-54 year olds

These groups also have money and passion. Millennials gave more than $20 billion in 2021. They are the largest generation, having overtaken Boomers in 2019. Forty-eight percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as philanthropists.

The unknowns of 2020 were likely key motivators in the urge to take control. So, too, were the increasing convenience of online resources—like Zoom attorney appointments and digital documentation—that have made the estate planning process more accessible and excuses less meaningful.

The Youth Movement

We’ve been making the case for years about the value of younger donors to a planned giving program. The point is this: If you’re focusing your marketing strategy solely on donors age 65 and older, you’re missing out.

The remedy? Bring Gen Xers and Millennials into strategic focus. Start by bringing them in, then bonding. Here are some starting points.

Bring In Millennials

Demographics: Born between 1981 and 1996; age 25-40

Headspace: This group enjoys helping others. Giving USA reported that more than half give to charity. (This increases to more than 3 in 4 if you add in financial support for family and friends.) They prioritize missions that reflect their values. They want to be more directly involved in how and where their donations are spent. They emphasize experiences over physical items.

Marketing notes: Go online. Not only is digital marketing generally a cheaper way to target prospects, but it’s also where this generation expects to interact with your brand. Share videos on social media of impact and compassion. Show them philanthropists that look like them. Encourage this group to interact, share and invite their social media followers to learn about your nonprofit.

Bond With Gen X

Demographics: Born between 1965 and 1980; age 41-56

Headspace: While this group is in the thick of raising families, paying for their children’s college and perhaps even taking care of their parents, Gen Xers also are aware of two big upcoming milestones: retirement and enjoying the next phase of life. They’re busy and juggling a lot of priorities.

Marketing note: Continually drip messaging across print, digital and social channels. Across these channels, describe the best ways to make an impact and the financial and emotional payoffs of each. Touchpoint language might include:

  • “A gift in your will can be made by adding one sentence, which we’re happy to provide.”
  • “If your children are grown and financially stable, consider donating life insurance policies to our organization.”
  • “Donor advised funds offer flexibility to recommend how much and how often money is granted to qualified charities like ours.”
  • “Receive an income tax charitable deduction when you itemize by donating stocks you’ve owned for longer than one year.”
  • “Looking for income in retirement? Establish a charitable gift annuity and enjoy dependable income for life.”

Repeat touchpoint messages regularly. You might think you’re being repetitive, but, trust us, you aren’t. “Effective frequency” is the term for the number of times someone hears a message before acting. Three, seven, 14 times? The advice varies. What’s hard and fast, however, is that you’ve got to say the same thing often and in the same way, across all your marketing. Consistency and repetition are key.

This group is also online. Provide digital resources that help them fall in love with your mission on their own. This generation is the very picture of the self-directed donor.

The Stewardship Challenge

Yes, these donors will require more years of commitment from you to steward their gift. That time represents both additional chances to connect and additional wealth accumulation—both charitable opportunities if you see the glass half full.

Remember, these are experiential donors who don’t want things. They want:

  • Accountability from you.
  • To know that their gift is being/will be used responsibly.
  • To support organizations that will be around for the long-term.
  • To feel like they are part of changing the world.

That sounds a lot like an up-to-date digital presence (including social media) and a meaningful cadence of reach outs (a birthday card, inclusion on planned giving educational package mailings, surveys, etc.). Tip: This younger group may have additional needs from wealth managers or estate planning professionals; we’ve seen several innovative nonprofits host free donor webinars that have generated a lot of good will. Do a live Zoom event then record it for reuse as you acquire new young donors and as these important groups reach new life milestones. Collateral that helps them get their assets in good order—including keeping track of pesky digital passwords—is also highly valued.

It’s About Them

No matter their age, your marketing challenge is to make the donor the hero and to take the role of conduit between them and their charitable legacy. Earlier this year I shared seven ways to build better donor bonds. The youngest philanthropists are looking for these connections, too.

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