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Millennials Had the Biggest Increase in Giving Among Generations

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Millennial donors turbocharged their giving over the past six years, according to a new report by Giving USA and the fundraising firm Dunham+Company. In 2022, millennial households gave 40 percent more, on average, to charity than they did in 2016 — bumping their average annual contribution up from $942 to $1,323. During the same period, average annual giving by both Gen X households and boomers fell — by 4 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

The report includes findings from two online surveys of U.S. donors who had given $20 or more to charity over the last year. The 2016 survey polled 1,391 donors and the 2022 survey polled 1,400. Both were conducted with the research firm Campbell Rinker.

Boomers — the oldest generation surveyed, born from 1946 through 1964 — gave the biggest gifts to charity, contributing an average of $2,921 in 2016 and $2,568 in 2022. Millennials, born from 1981 through 1996, were the second-most generous, and Gen X households ranked third. These donors, who were born from 1965 through 1980, gave an average annual gift of $1,265 in 2016 and $1,220 in 2022. Gen Z donors, who were born from 1997 through 2012, were only polled in 2022, when they gave an average annual gift of $747.

Rick Dunham, chair of Dunham+Company, says he didn’t anticipate millennial households’ average annual charitable contribution to grow as fast as it did. Still, he had been expecting it to increase as the generation aged.

“We often talk about giving being more of a life-cycle issue,” Dunham says. “The older you get and the more you’re making and the more you have disposable income, the more you’ll definitely give.”

The survey also showed an uptick in millennials’ attendance of virtual or in-person religious services — and a decline in the Gen X and boomer cohorts.

In 2016, 49 percent of millennials said they attended services “at least a few times a month.” By 2022, that share of millennials had grown to 67 percent. “I’m more surprised by how much it increased, not that it did,” Dunham says. With more of the generation now raising families, he says, they’re likely considering how to incorporate religion into their children’s upbringing.

Gen X and boomer church-attendance rates kept roughly apace with one another. In 2016, 48 percent of Gen X-ers and 46 percent of boomers said they went to church a few times a month or more. Those shares fell to 45 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Dunham speculates that millennials’ bigger annual charitable gifts could be correlated with their closer ties to houses of worship. “Generally, you’ll find that there is a correlation between frequency of attendance of religious services and giving,” he says.

Overlap and Divergence

Despite declining attendance of religious services by Gen X and boomers, places of worship still ranked among the top-three types of charities supported by each generation polled. However, giving to places of worship fell from 2016 to 2022 among millennial (-31 percent), Gen X (-41 percent), and boomers (-16 percent).

Millennial, Gen X, and boomer donors all also ranked faith-based organizations — which include international aid groups like Compassion International and World Vision — in their top-three cause areas. Millennials’ giving to these charities increased 130 percent, jumping from an average of $106 in 2016 to $243 in 2022. Gen X donors upped their giving to these causes by 51 percent — from $105 in 2016 to $159 in 2022 — and boomers gave 98 percent more. The oldest donors contributed an average of $155 a year to faith-based organizations in 2016 and $307 in 2022.

Domestic health nonprofits were popular with Gen X and Gen Z donors. Millennials’ third-most-popular cause area was the nonprofit hospital — a type of charity that didn’t rank highly among these donors in 2016, according to Dunham.

Boomers alone gave enough to education causes to put those charities in their top three, even upping their giving to them by 52 percent. Dunham suspects this is a side effect of aging, that older donors are thinking more about leaving legacies at their alma maters.

Gen Z donors were the only generation to favor environmental causes and to exclude faith-based organizations from their top cause areas. They weren’t polled in 2016, so the survey does not include year-over-year data on them.

Tech Trends

More donors are giving online through their smartphones or tablets. Gen Z were the most likely to do so, with 48 percent saying in 2022 that they reached a charity’s online donation form through their cell phones or tablets. Forty-seven percent of millennials said the same, an increase from 36 percent in 2016. Forty-one percent of Gen X used their phones or tablets to donate online in 2022, as did 27 percent of boomers — up from 26 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in 2016.

Outside of donations, the survey looked at general technology use. A majority of donors across generations say they use smartphones. Boomers are the only generation to still have a majority say they used a desktop computer in 2022, and even that share fell — from 63 percent in 2016 to 52 percent. Desktop usage hovered around 35 percent in 2022 for Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X.

With such high proportions of each generation using smartphones — including 87 percent of boomers in 2022 — nonprofits need to provide donors with email messages and donation forms that are easy to read and use on a phone. “Always design for mobile first,” Dunham advises.

Donors are also reaching charity’s websites on their smartphones through QR codes — a technology that Dunham says was “on the trash heap” before the pandemic began. However, QR codes’ popularity is concentrated among younger donors. Near equal shares — 47 percent and 46 percent — of Gen Z and millennials say they’ve visited a nonprofit’s website through a QR code. However, 26 percent of Gen X donors and just 6 percent of boomer donors said the same.

A majority of millennial, Gen X, and boomer donors have been making contributions to charities online since 2016. By 2022, online giving had increased by roughly 10 percentage points across the board — and millennials, Gen X, and boomers were making more online donations per year.

While the survey did not include 2016 data on the number of online gifts the youngest donors made in 2016, Gen Z posted the most online gifts in 2022: 11.4, on average. Millennials upped their annual number of online gifts from an average of 4.1 to 7.7, while Gen X donors increased theirs from 3.6 to 6.3, and boomers from 4 to 8.3.

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