How Nonprofits Can Engage and Empower Generation Z

First Republic Bank
December 9, 2022

In the next five to 10 years, America will see the largest transfer of wealth in modern history as the baby-boom generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — is projected to collectively pass down trillions of dollars to younger generations. Since this great wealth transfer will inevitably impact the nonprofit donor base, it is important for nonprofits to better understand how to reach the next generation of philanthropic leaders: Generation Z.

The global next-gen communications consultancy PRZM has helped organizations such as the American Ballet Theatre and the Central Park Conservancy successfully grow their reach to younger audiences. First Republic invited PRZM Co-Founder Laurence Milstein to share insights about Generation Z with members of First Republic Bank's Fundraisers Alliance.

Characteristics of Generation Z

Born between 1995 and 2010, Generation Z makes up 27% of the U.S. population, making it the largest, most diverse generation in history. But Milstein reminds fundraisers that a generation is defined not only by its demographics, but also by its psychographics — the study and classification of people’s behaviors, interests, attitudes and activities. For Generation Z, there are a few standout criteria:

Digital natives

While older generations built the internet and millennials pioneered popular social platforms like Facebook, Generation Z was the first generation to fully grow up online. Milstein says that being “digital natives” means that this generation: 

  • Is very comfortable adapting to rapidly changing technologies 
  • Expect information to be available at their fingertips 
  • Has developed a sophisticated filter for information that is relevant and interesting to them
  • Prefers to be “creators” rather than “curators”; they would rather express authentic stories than share a perfectly filtered version of their lives   

Coming of age during COVID-19

“Think about any major cultural, social or political moment that has influenced an entire generation’s psychology,” says Milstein. “For Generation Z, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly become one of those seminal moments that will define our transition to adulthood.” While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted every generation, young people faced specific challenges. Those who entered college during the height of the pandemic had to adjust to remote learning and social isolation. Meanwhile, older members of Generation Z who graduated from college faced a turbulent financial environment and a volatile job market. 

Socially and environmentally conscious

In addition to the pandemic, Generation Z has been coming of age during uncertain times. They understand how decisions made today can have a profound impact on their future. Because of this, young people are focused on issues that speak to today’s urgent social, political and environmental climate. In a poll conducted by PRZM, young people identified the following issues as most important to them:  

  • Mental health advocacy 
  • Public health and safety 
  • Environmental sustainability and climate change 
  • Racial equity 
  • LGBTQ+ acceptance   

For organizations whose missions align with these issues, there may be natural entry points to engaging with Generation Z. Furthermore, many of these issues can, and do, overlap — so nonprofits may find new audiences by addressing their points of intersection. For organizations focused on different causes, Milstein advises finding “creative ways to think about how your work is intersectional” and aligning your organization’s messaging with issues that are most pressing to young people.

Create opportunities for activism

Because Generation Z currently makes up less than 10% of overall charitable giving, this demographic is often overlooked by nonprofits. But Milstein reminds fundraisers that young people today have tremendous potential to rally around a cause in different ways, including:  

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising: Nearly 83% of Generation Z is willing to galvanize friends and family to raise money for a cause.  
  • Volunteerism: Over 25% of young people ages 16 to 19 volunteer regularly.  
  • Influence: As avid social media users, young people are adept at raising awareness about issues and using digital platforms to spur activism — both online and in person.   

Given these trends, organizations looking to find ways to engage with Generation Z should set goals that go beyond individual donations and focus on the strengths of young people to build a culture of community around a cause. According to Milstein, organizations should create opportunities for engagement that focus on activism, leadership development and coalition-building, such as:  

  • A Generation Z listening tour: Take the time to speak with young people who are already among your donor or volunteer base. Build more meaningful relationships by getting to know why they support your organization and, in turn, how your organization can better support them. 
  • A young leadership or ambassador program: Create youth-led leadership opportunities that come with few or no financial requirements. Invest in a Junior Board to develop relationships with younger donors, engage influential volunteers to spread awareness about your organization through a youth ambassador program, or award special recognition to young people who are deeply engaged in your mission. 
  • Local in-person events: While Generation Z lives much of their lives online, don’t underestimate the power of in-person events. “Gen Z loves community-oriented events,” says Milstein. “After two years of being socially isolated, we’re looking for opportunities to come together.” Local volunteer opportunities or peer-to-peer fundraising events are great ideas for engaging younger supporters.    

Engage digital natives online

Nearly 60% of young people will do research before getting involved with an organization. But unlike older donors (who may focus on collateral like annual reports), younger prospective donors will do their research online — in particular, across social media platforms and channels. To better engage young supporters online, Milstein recommends the following:  

  • Meet young people where they are: Generation Z spends up to three hours a day on social media. Keep your organization’s social media presence current and active. Consider expanding into popular new platforms such as TikTok, a platform where around 60% of users belong to Generation Z. 
  • Tell a story: “People come to social media to learn, laugh or be surprised,” says Milstein. Rather than focusing on advertising or bland informational posts, use social media as a way to tell bold, creative stories about your organization’s mission and the communities you serve. Invite young supporters to unify around that narrative. 
  • Demonstrate measurable impact: An important story to tell is how your organization is impacting real people’s lives. Demonstrating impact — through both numbers and storytelling — is a crucial way of maintaining the transparency that donors care so much about. In addition, find opportunities to show young supporters how they can be part of the impact by supporting your organization.  
  • Turn users into creators: One way to invite supporters to be part of the impact is to invite social media users to become content creators on your organization’s behalf. While many nonprofits focus on followers liking and sharing the organization’s content, platforms that prioritize user-generated content (e.g., TikTok or YouTube) can allow for creativity and experimentation when spreading a message.   

By thinking differently about philanthropy, Generation Z is poised to make a real impact for the causes they care about. If nonprofits can think differently about their outreach, they can successfully engage Generation Z and cultivate the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Milstein says, “Whether online or in person, empowering this audience with opportunities and making them part of your efforts is such an effective way to engage them.”

Get more fundraising insights

If you are interested in attending more sessions like this one, we welcome you to learn more about First Republic’s Fundraisers Alliance: a complimentary educational networking group for nonprofit professionals to deepen fundraising skills, share best practices, and learn from peers and best-in-class subject matter experts. First Republic is proud to organize the Fundraisers Alliance as a part of our commitment to mission-driven financial services.

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