Don’t Skip Gen X: Why Believing Certain Myths May Cause Your Nonprofit To Miss Out
When you think about the list of things Generation X has been excluded from, targeting them for nonprofit donations doesn’t usually come to mind.
And yet the Latchkey Generation is being swept to the side by nonprofits more interested in courting their wealthier parents or their younger siblings — the Millennials (the generation of which this writer is a proud member). Nonprofits that fall into the trap of disregarding Gen X entirely are pushing away a huge donor base that is ready, willing and able to support any number of causes — and has the finances to back it up.
Fidelity Charitable put it this way in their recent "Future of Philanthropy" report:
While [Millennials] currently only control 5% of wealth in the United States, their unique attitudes, expectations and approaches to giving back will revolutionize the social sector as they inherit trillions from their Baby Boomer parents in one of the largest intergenerational wealth transfers in modern times.
The report goes on to say that, according to a Fidelity Charitable survey, more than 40% of Millennials feel optimistic that the world’s greatest challenges can be solved, compared to 15% of Baby Boomers and 22% of Gen X. Why aren’t nonprofits taking advantage of that optimism?
The answer, as with most things, is a little murky. So let’s bust some myths around Gen X as a donor group.
Myth 1: There’s No Money
You just read that Millennials will eventually come into trillions of dollars as a result of the great wealth transfer between them and their dual-income Boomer parents. But there’s that key word: eventually. Nonprofits are trying to raise money right now, and no amount of IOUs from any generation is going to serve your cause or pay the bills.
Do you know who controls more than five times the wealth Millennials do?
Ding ding ding! Gen X!
What’s more, Boomer parents – who are well into grandparenthood by now – are more likely to transfer their wealth to their Gen X children and not their Millennial grandchildren. This means that Gen X’s wealth is likely to grow more than anticipated, even if Millennials do end up benefiting from that trillion-dollar wealth transfer later in life.
Myth 2: Gen X Just Doesn’t Care
According to Fidelity Charitable’s report, 48% of Gen Xers consider themselves philanthropists. And while that’s technically less than the 75% of Millennials who would say the same, Gen Xers have the money to back up their philanthropic efforts, whereas Millennials tend to donate their time more than their money.
Technically, a philanthropist is anyone who promotes the welfare of the common good through donating time or money. For a fundraiser with revenue goals, a philanthropist is someone with capacity, linkage and interest in their mission.
Sounds like Gen Xers fit the bill here too, no?
Gen X is tax-savvy, and they look for charity that works within their budget and makes good fiscal sense. They’re the working wealthy who are interested in giving back to those less fortunate. And they’re quickly becoming the oldest generation in their families. In a few years, they’ll control the majority of wealth in this country, and they’ll still be relatively young. In short, this is not a generation you should discount when it comes to financial giving.
Myth 3: They Can’t Be Convinced to Give
Like with any other group of people, you just have to know how to speak to them, and where to find them. You likely have many members of Generation X donating to your organization already, which is great, but you do have to know, understand and operate within what they want and need to see in order for them to become sustaining donors.
As an example, members of this generation are tech-literate. They’re not digital natives, maybe, but they’re still put off by outdated websites or marketing literature where you have to squint to find donation links or information. They’re a lot like Millennials in that they want information to come in quickly and in forms that are easy to read and understand. If you do that, you’re gold.
They’re also looking ahead toward the future when it comes to their own lives, which can help tailor how you speak to them about the future of their communities and their world. Members of Generation X are less likely to be married than Baby Boomers were at their age, meaning they have no child care expenses or heirs, but they have bills and other expenses. Showing them the value in fitting your cause into their budget will make all the difference.
If you meet Gen Xers where they are with compelling, tailored cases for their support, everyone will walk away happy. You’ll have the funding you need, and they’ll know they’re making a difference in the world.
As a Millennial myself, let me plead our case. We graduated into the worst job market since the 1920s with historic student loan debt numbers to pay off. The fact that we’re as idealistic and optimistic as we are is nothing short of a miracle!
That said, I know organizations need money now to change the world, and pinning strategies on a generation that comprises 44% of the population and holds only 5% of the wealth isn’t the way to go.
So, even as you factor Gen X into your strategies, just remember: Millennials, our moment will come in just a few decades. I’m sure we’ll meet back here then.
Dan Reed, CFRE, is the senior director of fundraising for Media Cause. Since joining Media Cause in 2018, Dan has enjoyed the opportunity of working with a wide variety of nonprofits that are striving to make the world a better place. He’s been inspired on a daily basis by helping passionate clients achieve their fundraising goals. In 2021, Dan earned his Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation. Dan also holds his Master's Degree in strategic fundraising and philanthropy. Prior to Media Cause, Dan held positions at Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network, the Smithsonian Institution, and World Food Program USA.