Getting to Know the Generation Z Donor

7 min read

I still remember it like it was yesterday. Born in the mid-90s, I’d spent my whole life with the term millenial hurled at me like it was derogatory slang. Considered the new kids on the block, we are old enough to remember life without selfies and sending AIM messages to your middle school crush via your parent’s desktop. I proudly wore the millennial badge with honor.

Then, one day, I was given a new label — Generation Z. What was Generation Z, and had they come from the future? I was appalled. I discovered that Gen Z was anyone born from 1997 onward to 2012. I was relieved that I didn’t fit the bill. However, how different was I really from that generation? I realize now that I’m stuck in No Man’s Land — a millennial born close enough to Gen Z to have picked up some of their tendencies — a “zillenial.” But I believe that it’s given me a unique lens to see the world through two different generations.  

In 2020, there were an estimated 67 million Gen Zers, trailing only millenials and Baby Boomers in population size. This socially conscious generation is beginning to create their own wealth, and they are looking to make a difference. As a nonprofit, it’s time you mount a full-court press on this group to begin cultivating your new evangelists. Here’s what you need to know about Gen Z:

In 2020, there were an estimated 67 million Gen Zers, trailing only millenials and Baby Boomers in population size. This socially conscious generation is beginning to create their own wealth, and they are looking to make a difference. Click To Tweet

Getting to Know Gen Z

Before we get into what Gen Z wants and how to engage them, I want to share a bit about this group. Here are the facts:

  • Almost half of America’s Gen Z population belong to a minority group (source)
  • Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025 (source)
  • Over half (55%) of Gen Z use their smartphones 5 or more hours a day and over a quarter (26%) use their phones 10 or more hours a day (source)
  • Generation Z’s average attention span is eight seconds (source)
  • Gen Zers lean progressive, pro-government and favor racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. (source)
  • 59% of Gen Zs were inspired to donate to a charity through a social media message (source)

So, what does all of this mean? Gen Z is well-educated, tech-savvy, diverse and pragmatic.

This is the first generation to have grown up with advanced technology at their fingertips from an early age. On their phones constantly, many of the communities and relationships they have exist virtually. Many receive hundreds of notifications on their phone a day. Keeping their attention is a challenge because everyone demands it.

Gen Z is on track to be the most highly educated generation. However, they feel like they’ve been given the short-end of the stick when it comes to things they feel strongly about: workforce opportunities, climate, student debt and more. A global pandemic taking place during a time when most were in school or entering the workforce certainly did not help. I expect this group to be on the front lines of social change when it comes to racial justice, equality, climate, gender and more.

What Does Gen Z Want From Your Nonprofit?

It’s fair to say Gen Z is an activist generation. However, activism and socially conscious movements don’t look the same as they did even five years ago. It often means leveraging their digital arsenal to create change through social media, online petitions and Zoom meetings. They are quick to reshare what is trending in their social feed. See the example below where millions of people thought resharing a picture of their dog meant a tree would be planted:


The nonprofit that posted this quickly admitted that they didn’t have the resources to plant millions of trees and took down the post. Professor Ahmed Al-Rawi calls this “clicktivism,” a low-engagement way of activating large populations of people on social media. Well, it works.

What does this mean for what Gen Z wants from you? Gen Z does not want a printed copy of your annual impact report, nor do they want any sort of mail. They want tasteful, quick-hitting digital engagement. What do I mean by tasteful? Don’t overdo the marketing and outreach. Keep things simple. They want to take action without having to go through too many steps. Whether you want them to sign up for a newsletter, donate to a cause or reshare a cute picture of their dog for the greater good, make sure they can do so in as few clicks as possible.

Gen Z also wants your nonprofit to be transparent and outspoken on the issues that matter to your organization. If an individual is interested in learning more about your nonprofit to see if it’s a good fit, they don’t want to have to look far. Making your mission, vision and values abundantly clear is essential. If they visit your website or social media profile and are confused by what you do or what you stand for, you’ve lost the battle. And they’ve moved on to a notification of a recent match on Tinder. 

Lastly, can you make Gen Z feel like part of your community? In order to evangelize them, think about how you’re engaging Gen Z from first touchpoint to post-donation. They’d like to be recognized for showing support and you can give them that through personal outreach, exclusive access to content or opportunities and free goodies. Who doesn’t like free goodies?

How to Engage Gen Z

Now that you know who you’re dealing with and generally what they want from your nonprofit, it’s time to put it all together. 

First things first. If you want to engage this tech-savvy generation, you are going to need to pass their litmus test of having a digitally cohesive nonprofit. Organizations have far too often treated marketing as overhead. This deprioritization of marketing may work for those fortunate enough to be endowed or to have high-net-worth individual donors, but for the majority of nonprofits, small but frequent individual donations add up, and continuing to bring in newer, younger donors is critical

At a minimum, you need at least one person on your team entirely dedicated to marketing and hopefully someone else focused on digital and social media. Depending on the size of your nonprofit, your marcomm team may need to be much larger. Who better to hire on your digital team than someone in their 20s who understands the trends, channels and content that most resonate with younger generations? Across your email marketing, website and social media, the digital experience should be seamless for a prospective donor.

Once you feel comfortable with your nonprofit’s digital cohesion, let’s fundraise. Some of the best online tools for fundraising at a low-to-completely-free cost include Classy, Funraise and, my personal new favorite, GiveButter. What makes these tools unique is they are meeting the donor where they are. This includes personalized emails, texts and videos, fundraising through Venmo (arguably the most popular tool millennials and Gen Z use to send money), and peer-to-peer fundraising. These tools make it simple for individual donors to give and don’t require significant resources to use. 

Finally, come up with a fundraising campaign that leverages your digital strengths. It should be easily resharable, simple for donors to engage with, and cohesive across all channels. 

As the world gets more and more technologically dependent, it’ll be clear that catering to Gen Z’s digital-first preferences is no longer a “nice to do”…it’s a must.

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