young women with a phone and flowers
Gen Z gets a bad rap in the media (though perhaps not quite as bad as Millennials). Always on their phones, but not on the platforms Silicon Valley really wants them to use. Entitled and lazy, hopping from job to job in order to get ahead against steep economic odds. These are just some of the Gen Z stereotypes you might have heard.  But these kids are the future of your donation and volunteer pools. Even if these stereotypes have an element of truth to them (and we’re not saying they do), they don’t paint the full picture of this up-and-coming generation and how they can help you reach your fundraising goals today, and into the future.

Who are these Gen Z-ers?

There isn’t a hard and fast rule, but many agree that Gen Z was born in the late 1990s to the mid-2010s. Gen Z is one of the most diverse generations: only 52% are non-Hispanic white. This young generation came of age during the Great Recession, watching older family members lose jobs, homes, and financial assets. Then, just as they were poised to enter the workforce, the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world’s economy into a tailspin.  Though Gen Z is more educated than any that have come before, they also face a more serious generational wealth gap than any other. This means that their ability to contribute to charitable causes is, at least for now, weaker than that of older generations. This might tempt you, as a fundraiser, to write them off as a source of donations. Here’s why you shouldn’t:
  • They’re the future: If your organization is meant to last longer than your working lifetime, who will eventually take over running it? And who will those future nonprofit leaders be asking for donations?
  • Gen Z cares: Studies have shown that Gen Z is deeply concerned about the environment as well as racial justice, disability advocacy, and many other social issues.
  • Smaller, but more consistent: This generation is primed to give smaller, but more consistent donation amounts, which tend to be more impactful that larger one-offs.

Reaching Gen Z Donors and Volunteers

So you know that you should be thinking about this young generation, now how do you attract and keep their attention? Luckily Madison Avenue has done a lot of the leg work for you: they’re trying to understand how and why Gen Z spends their money, and your needs as a fundraiser aren’t too different. 
  • Authenticity: Gen Z can smell a phony from a mile (or several TikToks) away. Remember that they hold more degrees than any other generation: if your organization is trying to hide some scandal, Gen Zers are likely to sniff it out. If you created a TikTok account purely to try and appeal to Gen Z, they’ll sense it (more tips on social media in a moment). Be genuine in your communications with them.
    • Try asking: If you’re not sure what Gen Z would want to hear from you, or how they’d want to hear it (email, text, etc.) consider sending out a survey, or even just informally asking friends and family in that age range.
  • Mobile-First Strategies: Keep your website up to date, with solid user experience on mobile. Gen Z does spend a lot of time on their phones: your organization’s mission and your site’s calls-to-action need to be clear and concise. 
    • Tip: When we say Gen Z is on their phones constantly, we don’t mean they’re making and taking calls. Use texts, emails, and social media/their associated messaging systems to communicate. Your phone calls will go unanswered.
  • Social Media: If your organization doesn’t have someone who can create compelling, brief videos, signing up for TikTok might be a waste of your time. Consider your choices carefully and weigh them against your resources. Gen Z spends a lot of time on Instagram and YouTube, as well as TikTok, but considerably less on Facebook. Start out small as you get the hang of a new tool, but make sure you have a consistently updated presence on the platforms you do end up choosing.
  • Include them in decision making: Especially if you’re trying to get younger members of your community involved in your operations or volunteer network, bring them to the table early-on and listen to their ideas. If you show that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to contribute, you’ll start to earn the interest and loyalty of younger folks who can take your mission to new heights.
  • Diversity and transparency: This one ties back to authenticity. As the most diverse generation in the US, Gen Z cares that organizations reflect the makeup of our wider society. This doesn’t mean that a charity in, say, rural Iowa needs to worry a lot about the fact that they don’t have any people of color on their board (though maybe it should be a discussion) so much as the fact that any organization, for profit or not, be aware that people of color face real inequalities in the US. And it’s not enough to “talk the talk” with Gen Z, you should be ready to show genuine efforts towards diversity, inclusion, and racial equity projects.

Causes Gen Z cares about

Gen Z has strong feelings about human services, equality, and the environment. If your mission doesn’t exactly fall into these categories, it doesn’t mean you should give up on getting Gen Zers involved in your organization: they’re a thoughtful bunch who will probably be willing to hear what you have to say.  According to the United Way, Gen Z cares most about:
  • The environment: as the generation that will inherit the consequences of global warming and decades of inaction, this is the one issue Gen Z tends to be most concerned about and united on
  • Mental health: partly due to the social isolation of the pandemic, this generation is concerned with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
  • Racial and gender equity: this generation recognizes power imbalances in our government, justice system, pay disparity, and more
  • Gun control: no surprise given how many school shootings these students and recent grads have lived through
  • Economic stability: including issues surrounding affordable housing, the job market, and debt

Talkin’ ‘Bout That Generation

Gen Z is the next generation in line to start accruing significant wealth, so it doesn’t pay to ignore them or the ways in which they differ from other generations in terms of spending, giving, and communicating. And they can be powerful employees or volunteers, capable of bringing fresh skills and viewpoints to nonprofits.  However, the demands on their time and energy are high. Studies show, for example, that young people volunteer at a much lower rate than previous generations did at their age. This will likely continue, in part because these generations delay having children, and families with young children tend to volunteer more, as well as help out their communities in informal ways. Gen Z also needs to be careful with its money and resources: part of why we recommend you pursue the tactic of soliciting smaller, more consistent donations.
And not to be too on the nose about it, but a mobile-first strategy also includes tools like ours. Youth might not bother filling out a paper bid sheet at your event or booth, but it’s easy for them to pull up our site on their phone and bid in your auction, then wander away and still get notified if they’re outbid—or if they win! Take a look at our platform today.
  Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

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