Gen Z as Donors: Ready or Not, Here They Come

Courtney PourciauxSenior ConsultantApril 5, 2024

Pipeline. Inclusivity. Omnichannel. Give-to-Get. Collective Impact. HENRYs.

When it comes to analysis of donors by generation, the nonprofit blogosphere is full of flashy buzzwords, with many consultants and organizations offering their take on a “quick fix” for reaching and retaining the youngest alumni donors. The supposedly elusive “Gen Z” donors have been labeled difficult to recruit (and even more difficult to retain), disconnected, untrusting, and incentive-seeking. Some of the proposed “magic solutions” for engaging this new generation of donors and fundraisers seeks to combat or avoid many of these factors. However, the most effective capitalize on and celebrate what makes Gen Z donors unique: meeting these donors where they are and looking for inspiration as the youngest graduates begin charting their course as philanthropists, nonprofit professionals, and future leaders.

Meet Gen Z donors where they are

How can we move beyond labels and turn this cliche picture of Gen Z into something useful to fundraisers? How can we build a genuine case for support that appeals to and effectively engages these young alumni donors?

With most other generations of donors, fundraisers often talk about having “two ears and one mouth for a reason.” We are taught to listen more than we speak and to marry donor priorities with institutional mission when building a case for support. Gen Z is no exception—instead of leaning into the fear that comes with learning a new generation as donors, let’s instead take a look at the tools we as fundraisers have at our disposal that can help us meet Gen Z donors where they are.

They are social (media) creatures

Anytime you can encourage young alumni donors to not only engage with your organization’s social content but also go one step further and generate their own, you are encouraging Gen Z to tell their own story, connect that story with their peers, and think about why they value giving back to their alma mater. This peer-to-peer generated content can afford you access to alumni and donors who you otherwise might not have a way to reach—lost donors, parents, lapsed or first-time alumni donors might all be in the networks or orbits of these post-happy grassroots philanthropists.

Spread the word on This social media aggregator is included for every partner organization that uses the RNL Giving Day module in the ScaleFunder platform. Organizations can customize their social hashtag, and the tool does the work for them—pulling in all Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X posts that use their unique Giving Day hashtag. The Giving Day team then has the option to “pin” user posts to their Giving Day Wall, highlighting exciting posts from their community from across the social sphere.

Blog: Gen Z Donors. board from the University of Missouri

A example from our partners at The University of Missouri.

Encourage friendly competition: By hosting a social media contest as part of your Crowdfunding or Giving Day campaign, you are engaging Gen Z donors in a way that feels familiar to them. Ask students and young alumni to use a specific hashtag, host a photo competition (think spirit gear selfie, throwback photo voting, or pet pics), or take it one step further and encourage student groups and alumni association members to get even more creative, like our RNL ScaleFunder partners at UC Berkeley did during their most recent Big Give Giving Day.

Blog on Gen Z donors: Examples from the Berkeley Big Give Reels Contest

Examples from the Berkeley Big Give Reels Contest.

Build connection and support their causes

In our 2024 National Alumni Survey, RNL studied data from 20,000 alumni about their giving preferences and connection to their alma maters. Connection is a major factor in giving as connected alumni were 23x more likely to give. However, in looking at connection by graduation year, half of recent Gen Z graduates said they felt disconnected from their institutions.

Chart: Alumni connection by decade

Source: 2024 RNL National Alumni Survey

It is also clear in our research that younger generations are more inspired by purpose-driven campaigns than “area of greatest need” or the annual fund. They want to give to a variety of specific causes, so providing options for them to give to the areas they are passionate about—and show the impact of their giving—is crucial to engaging them.

Blog on Gen Z Donors: Graph of Top areas alumni would be most likely to support in the future

Source: 2024 RNL National Alumni Survey

Make giving easy with digital wallets

Digital Wallet for Fundraising: integrated giving

When it comes to actually making a donation, the name of the game for Gen Z donors is to reduce friction. Easy-to- navigate donation forms that have clear flow and ask donors obvious questions are key to shortening the donation process and increasing conversion rates. The RNL ScaleFunder team has reported incredible results from their Giving Day and Crowdfunding partner universities that have made the switch to payment providers offering digital wallet options for donors. Digital wallet availability decreases the amount of time a donor is spending on the checkout process, in some cases shortening the actual time spent on the donation form down to as low as 20 seconds! Check out this RNL blog on how digital wallets can make giving easy on all of your mobile-minded donors, including Gen Z.

How can you engage young donors and build a new generation of givers?

Talk to our experts about how you can tap into the philanthropic spirit of young donors, connect giving to their passions, and increase your pipeline of donors. Reach out and we will set up a time to share strategies that are working for institutions like yours.

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With birth years starting in 1997, members of Gen Z do not remember a time before the internet existed, and many of them do not remember a time before cell phones were commonplace. When it comes to reaching them quickly to share updates on campus happenings, alumni events, and fundraising campaigns, adding texting to your strategy is both time-saving and cost-effective.

What we know about Gen Z donors so far as communicators is that, though texting definitely beats out a phone call, their preferred communication method is in-person communication. Personal connection is crucial for Gen Z, and personalized texting is one way to replicate the “in person” customized feel without stretching to get in front of every young alumni donor in your database each year. The integration of texting into RNL Engage strategy has yielded impressive results for many clients. RNL looked at more than 10.8 million text messages sent over a three-year period, and many RNL partners are finding more personal connection and more positive responses from alumni donors than originally anticipated. Unsubscribe rates were low and negative response rates were even lower, making texting a great strategic move to reach as many Gen Z donors as possible with the lightest strain on advancement team bandwidth and budget.

Gen Z wants to get involved

Gen Z is a generation of activists, of advocates, and of discerning donors. Authenticity and transparency are important to them, and they have a desire to get involved in the fundraising process, both as students and as young alumni. Creating opportunities to involve Gen Z in the solicitation, marketing, or stewardship pieces of Crowdfunding campaigns and Giving Days can help inspire their peers to get involved by making a gift or asking how they can participate in the next campaign. RNL ScaleFunder Crowdfunding and Giving Day partners often lean into the idea that Gen Z wants to get involved and encourage their peers, other alumni, and friends of the university to donate and engage.

Blog on Gen Z Donors: Virginia Tech’s Student Organization All-Star Challenge on Giving Day

Virginia Tech’s Student Organization All-Star Challenge on Giving Day.

Blog on Gen Z Donors: Cornell University’s Crowdfunding platform features dozens of student-led projects each year

Cornell University’s Crowdfunding platform features dozens of student-led projects each year.

Blog on Gen Z Donors: Monmouth University offered opportunities for the Class of 2024 to get involved and make a gift during their recent Giving Day campaign

Monmouth University offered opportunities for the Class of 2024 to get involved and make a gift during their recent Giving Day campaign.

Blog on Gen Z Donors: The University of Mary Washington’s Young Alumni Challenge is an annual campaign run through their Crowdfunding platform

The University of Mary Washington’s Young Alumni Challenge is an annual campaign run through their Crowdfunding platform.

Gen Z is the key to a sustainable fundraising pipeline

With increasing conversations in our industry about building sustainable pipelines, the great generational wealth transfer, and finding new ways to market alumni participation, universities and nonprofits have even more incentive to build strong strategies around engaging Gen Z donors. By meeting them where they are with communication preferences, recognizing their willingness to get involved, tailoring campaigns to be more “grassroots” in nature, and simplifying the donation process, we can build lasting relationships with this dynamic generation of donors, advocates, and future leaders.

Find out how you can engage young donors and tap into their philanthropic spirit. Ask for a complimentary consultation with our fundraising experts and we will set up a time to share strategies that are working for institutions like yours.

About the Author

Courtney provides strategic leadership for RNL digital giving partners, maximizing their success with crowdfunding, giving days, and our digital giving solutions. Courtney provides support for RNL Digital Giving powered by ScaleFunder, including giving days and...

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