Four Generations For Charity: Who Really Gives a Buck?

Tsunamis. Human trafficking. Environmental preservation. Homelessness. Cancer research. Crippling issues, but which generation is most likely to help these causes?

Unsurprisingly, Baby Boomers donate the most charitable dollars in the US. While Traditionalists may give more per person, the population size and life stage of Boomers empowers them to contribute 43% of all donations. Before handing this very competitive generation the MVP award for philanthropic giving, it’s important to take a broader look at what, why, and how each generation is providing the necessary drip into the financial stream of support for causes around the globe.


  • 27.1 million donors in the US
  • 88% give
  • $1,367 average annual gift
  • 6.2 charities supported on average per person

Traditionalists in America make up only 11% of the adult population but account for 26% of all charitable giving. From their Depression-era childhood to war-torn early adulthood to now, when the nation called upon them to serve, they did so proudly, happily, and without complaint. They have always been loyal to a cause and willing to sacrifice what they have for it. Many organizations rely heavily on Traditionalists’ generosity because no other generation gives so willingly and to so many at one time; they give to 6.2 charities each, on average. Boomers may get the first place trophy for total dollars, but Traditionalists take home the award for overachieving and selfless generosity. It’s important that organizations not take their loyalty for granted and up their thank-you games to keep this generation of givers.

Traditionalists are most likely to support their chosen place of worship, local social services, troops/veterans, and emergency relief efforts.


  • 51.0 million donors in the US
  • 72% give
  • $1,212 average annual gift
  • 4.5 charities supported on average per person

Baby Boomers have earned themselves a reputation as hippie living, long-hair wearing activists. While the hair may be trimmed (or gone), they continue their legacy of marching for peace, rallying for a cause, and speaking for justice. That same inward conviction that energized a movement in the 1960s is still beckoning this generation to stay involved, and the easiest way for them to do so is to give. While many Boomers have seen a dip in their retirement funds, this has not discouraged their willingness to donate. As the highest contributing generation in 2014, they can take pride in the fact that household, corporate, and foundational giving all went up by an average of 9.6% over 2013 in large part because of them. For most dollars donated, Boomers win the award.

Boomers are most likely to support their chosen place of worship, local social services, children’s charities, and animal rescues.


  • 39.5 million donors in the US
  • 59% give
  • $732 average annual gift
  • 3.9 charities supported on average per person

Gen Xers have yet to set any team records for their financial donations, but that doesn’t mean we should label them the heartless generation. Consider that there are 20 million fewer Xers than Boomers and that 42% of them financially support a child and a parent over the age of 65; Xers are the new sandwich generation. Furthermore, many Xers became skeptical of institutional giving in their teen years when a steady media stream broadcasted corporate scandals and non-profit waste. Nevertheless, Xers make their philanthropic presence known in a different way. In addition to giving 20% of the overall charitable contributions, they currently lead their generational counterparts in volunteer hours served. Ironically, Xers have earned themselves the “participation award” for rolling up their sleeves and getting involved. If organizations want to continue to engage this generation, they should take a transparent and honest approach to their philanthropic practices.

Like Boomers, Xers are likely to support their chosen place of worship, local social services, children’s charities, and animal rescues.


  • 32.8 million donors in the U.S.
  • 60% give
  • $481 average annual gift
  • 3.3 charities supported on average per person

Millennials bring two significant strengths to the charitable giving arena. 1) They are on track to high potential giving dollars as they are already the largest generation on the job and will be 50% of the overall workforce by 2020, and 2) 75% of Millennials believe they can make a positive difference in their world because their Boomer parents taught them to seek purpose in everything they do. They don’t make large financial contributions right now (only 11% of all charitable giving) because they are encumbered by low starting salaries and high college debt. Before they are dismissed as a minor player in a world with major needs, consider the difference a little bit more wealth makes. While 60% of Millennials participated in giving last year, according to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, that number skyrocketed to 92% for Millennials in managerial positions. As they continue to gain experience in their careers, there is strong evidence that this rookie generation will soon be making all-star contributions. Also, don’t discount the virtual impact this generation can make. Though sometimes deemed a group of “slacktivists,” their social voice can cause a stir and buzz that many non-profit organizations need to stay relevant.

Millennials tend to support children’s charities, their place of worship, health charities, and human rights/international development.

So, who really gives a buck? Every generation. They’re all stepping up in their own unique ways to make much-needed contributions. While there are subtle shifts between the causes that inspire them, the willingness to get involved appears consistent. The good news is that you are a part of one of these generations. As we approach the season of giving, I encourage you to research a need that is important to you and ask yourself, “When is the last time I gave a buck?”