It's a tale as old as time — "Kids these days just don't care," grumbles everyone over 26 through gritted teeth and a barely suppressed sigh.
On the surface, it seems like the iGeneration (folks aged 12 to 26) cares more about participating in the most recent TikTok trend than in local civil society. It may feel like your generation truly was the last one to care about contributing to society. But is that really the case?
Myth Busting the Cultural Zeitgeist
Jamie and Adam have their hands full (of explosives and a disturbing amount of urethane foam), so we're taking over busting this myth.
Myth: Gen Z doesn't care about nonprofit work. Specifically, zoomers appear to prefer mutual aid, grassroots organizations, and GoFundMe campaigns instead of nonprofits with grandfathered-in structures and strict adherence to local policies and regulations. On the surface, it would make sense to assume that Gen Z doesn't care about nonprofits and sees them as a relic of the past, given this anecdotal behavior.
But just because they don't primarily commit their energy to nonprofits doesn't mean they don't care about your charitable causes. Their participation in mutual aid efforts and other micro fundraisers is evidence of this. But nonprofits need to consider whether their outreach efforts are appropriately directed toward where Gen Z is, to tap into this energy.
Faith-based research firm Barna conducted a 2021 study on millennials and Gen Z, which revealed that young adults are carving out a space to participate in the nonprofit sector through volunteering and consistent (if small) donations.
And it's not just Barna that's unveiled zoomers' commitment to social justice — their zeal for community and philanthropy is echoed in studies from LexisNexis and Giving USA and by some nonprofit professionals.
Our reality doesn't match the preconceived image of indifferent, vapid preteens, teens, and young adults embedded in the current milieu. They're just doing it their own way.
Gen Z's Recipe for Giving Back
It's true — millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers do indeed outdonate Gen Z. But those groups are in a different stage of life than zoomers. Gen Zers are still in school, still in the early stages of their professional career, or just otherwise not financially independent (see: the cost-of-living crisis and student debt being at an all-time high). They haven't had time to amass the same resources, experiences, and financial acumen that allow older generations to make consistent charitable donations, according to Barna.
However, Barna's research also notes that at least 50 percent of folks aged 18 to 25 donate to charitable organizations. Similarly, Barna found that 30 percent of zoomers make room in their budgets for regular donations. If you're still thinking, "Well, all this may be true, but my nonprofit hasn't been seeing this kind of participation by Gen Z," here's another factor to consider: Gen Z donates in a different way than older generations.
First, the Gen Zers who replied to this question on Reddit state that they feel more motivated to donate when there's more transparency in where their money goes, giving them the sense that their donations are going towards immediate aid. Second, they described in their replies that they're more likely to donate to several different nonprofits versus becoming a long-term donor of a single cause.
The world is in constant crisis mode these days, and there are a lot of issues that need urgent financial support. So it's not necessarily mutual aid that's compelling, but [rather] offering a solution to an immediate problem. Traditional nonprofits are just slower to pitch themselves as the best candidates for the job.
Zoomers Are a Hands-On Type of Folk
Outside of monetary donations, Barna observed that Gen Z's generosity is more likely to show up in volunteering, advocating, or performing another hands-on activity for the sake of a nonprofit.
Of Gen Z adults, Barna's 2021 research shows that 54 percent have reported volunteering at an organization in the prior three months. This exceeds other generations who perhaps have less free time and more responsibilities (such as babies, pets, aging parents, and so on).
Get Busy Earnin' … Gen Z's Trust
As noted in a recent Gallup poll and anecdotally touched upon in the abovementioned Reddit thread, a majority of Gen Z has a healthy distrust of organizations. This is another reason nonprofits may not see Gen Z participating in their mission's work.
Notably, Gen Z has described that some tend to be skeptical of whether nonprofits are actually putting their money toward the communities they serve. The more like a corporation a nonprofit is, the less they'll donate or volunteer their time, mainly because the bigger a nonprofit, the less transparent they are.
Gen Zers trust small nonprofits more, largely due to their direct engagement with constituents and the communities they serve. As one Redditer put it, Gen Zers want "trust based philanthropy, community centered fundraising, and [they want to move] away from unfair/unsustainable power dynamics."
Zoomers Have the Power to Change the Way Things Are. So They Are.
Brass tacks: Gen Z does care. They care deeply — so deeply that they commit vast swaths of their time and energy to causes they believe in. But nonprofits are still relevant and essential. There are many social justice causes out there whose resolution can be attained more efficiently by a structured, regulated effort, as performed by experienced nonprofits. Nonprofits can fix their relationship with Gen Z, but they have to start by meeting Gen Z where they are — not waiting for Gen Z to find them.
- Why America Gives 2022
- Young People Want to Change the World. Nonprofits Can Help Them.
- Giving Trends: The Role of Age and Income in Charitable Giving
- FEP 2023 Quarterly Benchmark Report
- 2023 Charitable Giving Statistics, Trends & Data: The Ultimate List of Charity Giving Stats | Nonprofits Source
- Gen Z Voices Lackluster Trust in Major U.S. Institutions
- Key findings about Americans' declining trust in government and each other
- Trust in nonprofits, philanthropy continues to decline, study finds
- Trust in Civil Society 2023 Report | Independent Sector