In a one-hour webinar, three experts on giving unpacked three key giving trends and how nonprofits can use them to guide their fundraising in 2024. Here are the key takeaways from that hour.
It’s no surprise that within a social landscape that’s in flux, the philanthropy sphere is changing too. Last week, AmPhil’s Jeremy Beer and Doug Schneider joined Matt Randerson of Barna Group to analyze Barna’s latest data on giving in the United States. Barna, a leading research organization based in California, specializes in studies at the intersection of faith and culture. During the one-hour webinar, Matt presented Barna Group’s findings, boiling them down to three key trends: a rise in consumerism-blended giving, donors’ heightened preference for causes over institutions, and increased skepticism in giving. Jeremy and Doug offered practical advice on how nonprofit organizations can factor in this data as they plan and execute their fundraising in 2024.
Barna Group uncovered general trends in giving, but also found marked differences in giving across generations. We shouldn’t be hasty to jump to sweeping conclusions about generational giving, though. Before diving into the data, Matt noted that the study made use of generations as markers that are helpful for studying change, but he also acknowledged that this research is not static, and it would be premature to make definitive pronouncements about each generation’s philanthropy. There are always underlying questions of whether, for example, Generation Z will look more like the Baby Boomer generation later in life. The simple answer: we can’t be sure.
Even with these limitations, knowing how things stand is vital for strategically planning how to approach fundraising, in 2024 and beyond.
Trend 1: Consumerism and Generosity
First, Matt observed a rise in what he called “philanthro-capitalism”: the blending of consumerism and generosity. Brands like TOMS and Bombas come to mind; in purchasing their product, the consumer lends support to a cause like conquering hunger or reducing poverty. The consumer gets the two-for-one of supporting a philanthropic cause while going about their daily business.
According to Barna’s study, given the choice between buying a good in which a portion of the proceeds go to a specific cause and giving directly to that same cause, almost 50% of Generation Z respondents said they would rather buy the good. Meanwhile, 25% of Baby Boomers answered the same way—the first hint of a potential emerging trend.
It’s evident that younger generations are more interested in philanthro-capitalism than older generations, who are more interested in giving directly to charitable organizations. As leaders of charitable organizations, rather than hearing an alarm bell, you should ask: how can we respond to this phenomenon practically?
Jeremy suggested adapting to meet this trend by brainstorming means of incorporating consumption as part of giving. He tempered this suggestion, though, with a reflection: as the traditional modes of identifying oneself become less accessible, people increasingly build their identities around their consumption habits. Ideally, you’ll tap into that search for identity when inviting someone to be part of your mission. More on that in a second.
Trend 2: Cause-Minded Culture
While older generations’ giving makes up the bulk of charitable contributions, younger donors give to more causes. Only 10% of Boomers give to three or more causes, a percentage that increases with each successive generation, culminating in 32% for Gen Z. Taken in conjunction with overall declining trust in institutions, Matt interpreted the data as an increase in cause mindedness. Put simply: younger generations are more interested in causes than institutions. Causes are flexible and responsive; institutions can be hidebound and unable (or unwilling) to adapt to givers’ desires.
Jeremy’s advice? Watch your pronouns—but maybe not in the way you’d think. Take a close look at whom you’re referring to when you say “we.” You want to take advantage of cause mindedness, so when you’re talking to donors, emphasize the mission, not the institution. Forget “we” the institution; think “we” the cause.
Doug reiterated this point with the advice that the language you use really matters. When you use “we” deftly, you invite potential donors to join a community working together to further your cause. Ditch transactional language and lean in to cause mindedness, and you’ll tap into the desire for belonging and identity mentioned above.
Trend 3: The Trust Factor
Barna’s survey asked a pressing question of givers: when you think of issues that concern you the most, whom do you trust to make meaningful change?
Though institutions such as governments and schools were seen as highly responsible for change, “myself” took the top spot for trust (by a long shot) among adults, regardless of age or religious affiliation. In other words, it seems the general population defaults to skepticism and distrust.
This seems to be especially true for younger generations. When asked about choosing an organization to support, whether the organization is ranked highly by an outside institution was marked as “very important” by 46% of Gen Z, compared to 31% of Elders. Younger generations seem to demand more accountability—a potential symptom of greater distrust.
Cultivating genuine relationships is the antidote to distrust, Jeremy advised. Matt seconded this by suggesting that nonprofit organizations should ask themselves what they can do to increase “relational surface area” with donors in 2024. This effort has to be undertaken at an organizational level, not left to major gifts or development officers.
And how to leverage that trust in “myself”? Here, again, messaging matters. Position donors as the hero of the story. Make them aware of their role as a partner. Doug emphasized that, as much as an individual might trust him- or herself over organizations, individuals need a vehicle through which they can make positive change. Your organization should strive to be that trustworthy vehicle.
It's a little ironic that, in a study on charitable giving, the results all seem to indicate a degree of self-focus: the rise in consumerism, the responsiveness to causes that most immediately draw us, the trust in our own judgment and the need to be personally convinced. Granted, I speak as a member of Gen Z.
While the particulars of philanthro-capitalism and cause mindedness might be new, they seem to reflect an age-old philanthropic truth. The philanthropic space has always been characterized by negotiating the relationship between an individual’s desires and a larger cause that is outside of—sometimes far removed from—that individual.
The interesting and exciting question, then, is how to continue to adjust and work with these new manifestations of the human predilection for self-focus. By illuminating the current landscape, Barna’s findings and AmPhil’s advice can equip nonprofits with the information they need to answer that important question, both in their current fundraising work and in how they think about supporting their missions long-term.