We spend a lot of time talking about Millennials — like a lot of time. As consumers, members of the workforce and labor market and donors, there is a near obsessive focus on how to capture the time and treasure of the Millennial audience to replace the baby boomer generation’s place in the economy. But once again, it looks like we are overlooking Generation X, often referred to as the “Forgotten Generation” or “the middle child” generation — and that could prove to be a costly mistake for both commercial and nonprofit enterprises.
Members of Generation X, or Gen Xers, were born between 1965 and 1980 (though some sources use slightly different ranges) and Gen X has fewer members than the baby boomer or millennial generations, which is most likely why its members are often overlooked. But as time goes on, that will shift. According to the Pew Research Center, there are currently 65.2 million members of this generation and this group is projected to surpass boomers in population by 2028.
So, let’s take a moment to get to know them:
- Generation X has a higher-than-average household income and a considerable spending power of $2.4 trillion
- Gen Xers spend more money than Millennials by more than one-third, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
- 51% of all leadership roles globally (corporate and governmental) are filled by a Gen Xer (including Google, Tesla, Facebook, Twitter)
- The oldest of the Gen X group are still poised to have another 10 years in the workplace so as labor markets continue to shift and boomers continue to retire; this group is positioned to assume even more of a key role in leadership across all sectors
- Members of Generation X grew up in a time when there were more dual-income families, single-parent households, and children of divorce than when boomers were growing up. Consequently, many Gen Xers were latchkey kids, so they tend to be resourceful and independent by nature
- Gen Xers were the first generation to grow up with personal computers to some extent, thus becoming tech-savvy
- They tend to be more liberal on social issues and more ethnically diverse than boomers
So if your organization, like many others, has failed to take a hard look at this group, and how you might engage with them, there is no time like the present as the significant wealth transfer that is already underway will have a tremendous impact on this generation in the decade to come.
Gen Xers as donors align with their general characteristics quite consistently. Generation X has a high volunteer rate and prefers to donate and engage with nonprofit organizations online using their mobile devices. Many members of this group view charitable giving as a part of their identity and are intentional about contributing to causes that are important to them. Most Gen Xers will research a nonprofit before donating to it and discontinue their support if they feel their money isn’t being used responsibly. They are skeptical by nature and are less inclined to engage in (or support) something that feels overly bureaucratic.
Gen Xers tend to seek out causes concerning health services, animal rescue and welfare, and environmental conservation. They also have demonstrated support for organizations that focus on international affairs, public policy, and community development. They want to know that their gifts have made an impact and exhibit high levels of brand loyalty, once their trust has been earned. On the contrary, a bad experience will cause them to leave and move their “buying power” elsewhere.
Every generation responds differently to outreach methods and channels so it’s important to use your resources wisely when it comes to each audience in your file. With Gen X, there are some basic keys to success, and messaging, that you should keep in mind:
Communicate impact: This generation wants to know where their money is going and wants to understand how those dollars make a difference. This group can be skeptical about “institutions” so its important to build trust through transparency and good governance, testimonials and success stories, and “real life” examples of how their support made a difference – not just statistics.
Utilize social media and technology: They are a tech savvy generation, and your organization needs to be able to interact with them, especially via mobile devices. Online giving, intuitive website giving pages, and text to give options are all essential tools that your organization needs to invest in to make the engagement experience easy. If not simple, you can expect them to “abandon cart” rather than make repeated attempts to work through broken or difficult technology to fill out online forms.
Build the relationship and the message: This is a very visual audience (they are the MTV generation, after all) and they are nostalgic. While they use social media and will respond to online appeals, they are also experiencing the highest levels of saturation in digital mediums. They are heavier users of email than millennials or boomers so their email inbox is likely to be overloaded and experience mass deletes, so you cannot rely solely on those communication channels. Images and stories need to be shared by direct mail, videos and in-person events to really make a connection.
Ignore at your peril: This group is used to being ignored and has a pretty good sense of humor about it They are resilient and aren’t generally too high maintenance because they have always had to be pretty self-reliant. That said, if you want to build a relationship with them, you must make the effort. Personal notes of gratitude, genuine connection and a little bit of attention will go a long way to engaging them more fully in your cause.
You can empower your Gen X donors to become the lifeblood of your organization and if treated well, they can help lead your organization to great success. They are waiting to hear from you!
With nearly three decades of experience in the philanthropic sector, Alicia M. Lifrak is a Certified Fund-Raising Executive with demonstrated success in leadership, strategic planning, operations, budget management, board leadership, membership, program, marketing and all forms of fundraising. She is driven by a focus on developing and implementing strategic solutions that yield the best possible results in pursuit of mission achievement.
She currently serves as executive vice president for the Gabriel Group, an OSG company, leading the nonprofit division in offering full-service fundraising, marketing and strategy consultation to clients. Prior to joining Gabriel Group, Alicia spent 25 years leading teams to achieve exceptional results in nonprofit and higher education.
After moving around the U.S. for most of her life, Alicia now lives in Illinois with her four kids, a cat and a dog. She travels frequently, for work and for fun, is an avid reader and loves to see live music.