As a nonprofit professional with almost two decades in Oregon’s nonprofit sector, it is with great joy that I’ve joined the team here at Nonprofit Association of Oregon as the Director of Membership, Development and Communications. With my focus in development, I have seen a lot of changes throughout the sector over the years, new generations emerging with new ways to reach them, and a lot of moments of fear and worry around how funding will look and are current funding streams sustainable. One beautiful thing about Oregonians, is they do truly believe in our nonprofit sector and will support organizations, but at what level will that continue? 

According to Giving USA’s 2023 report, individual donations were down 6.4% in 2022 compared to 2021, and this trend is expected to continue. There are several reasons for this, and one obvious reason is the perception of the state of the economy. With inflation making basic needs more expensive, with grocery bills increasing while the number of groceries being purchased remains the same, it has caused individual donors to shift priorities in their spending. 22% of millennial donors have said they are not likely to donate until the economy recovers, compared to 17% last year, and only 9% in 2022. This shows that there is a lot of uncertainty, and going into an election year makes people even more wary of spending extra money. 

Another area that is impacting current donations is the transfer of wealth that is happening. We are about to see the largest transfer of wealth ever seen in our country – according to Forbes, it is expected that 90 trillion dollars will be transferred in the next twenty years. This is creating a shift in priorities, families choosing to use these wealth transfers in different ways than their elders. There is a lot of uncertainty on what this will look like for nonprofit organizations who have created strong relationships with their aging donors but are now needing to create brand new relationships with the younger donors that have acquired that wealth. While there are usually plans put in place for a bequest from these aging donors, the ongoing support nonprofits have come to rely on will no longer be available going forward, unless a new relationship is created with their successors. 

One of the biggest things we can do as development professionals is start looking at new ways to reach and engage these younger generations – both Millennials and Gen Z. Gen Z particularly is looking at philanthropy in a very different way than it has been looked at historically. Gen Z is giving more to crowd-funding campaigns, to causes because people they know and trust support. There are also new ways to give – think Facebook campaigns, Twitch influencers, and small events that are more affordable versus the $150 a ticket gala. These younger generations are more concerned about the impact of their gifts versus supporting an institution. They want meaningful engagement, to feel like partners, and to believe solutions are being sought.  

We do not put enough focus and emphasis in Development on the smaller gifts, but at this point in our sector, that is where a lot of our energy needs to be spent. A lot of us have strong relationships with the Boomers and Gen X, but now is the time to shift and start learning how to engage with Gen Z and Millennials. These donors have a totally different view of the world than our older donors, and with the wealth transfer that is happening and will be continuing, now is the time to find out what the younger generations need from us. They are most likely not going to give a major gift for several years, but engaging them now, creating a true relationship where they feel like partners and that their donation is making an impact, this will set us up for a long-lasting relationship that will see those smaller gifts grow into sustaining gifts. But if we use the same “tried and true” development tactics, we will lose out on these generations who are not the same tried and true donors of the past. Now is the time to start creating strategies.  

So, what do we do? I recommend reaching out to Gen Z staff and having conversations with them. Have them be your mentor. I did this and was shocked at how different Gen Z is than the donors I’ve normally engaged with. This is a powerful way to not only step back and remind us that we still have so much to learn, but also to empower younger staff who have lived experience in the areas of philanthropy we are trying to reach. 

We also need to change our strategies for these younger donors. Hold smaller, more accessible events that have a ticket price that won’t make people recoil. In Eugene, NAO member ShelterCare held a Glow Dance Party and sold out! The experience was joyful and engaging, instead of being stuffy and formal. All generations came and danced, while also learning about the important work ShelterCare does for the unhoused in Lane County.  

Meet people where they are at. Remember that the upcoming generation isn’t their parents and grandparents. Let’s get out of the trap of doing what we have always done and start making changes to create more engaging donor experiences that align with the values of the younger generations. 

I would love to talk more about this with you! If you want to continue this conversation, please email me. We will make it through this election year and this downturn, as long as we build community, collaborate, and engage!