A popular topic at conferences and water coolers in recent months has been how different generations engage with nonprofits. This is a subject that I’ve covered in my presentation “The Changing Nature of Online Fundraising” over the past year.
This week at the Blackbaud’s 2009 Relationship Management Conference here in London the topic of generations came up once again. I had the chance to sit down with some people from Sponge, our mobile messaging partner in the UK, to talk to them about what they are seeing in the sector. Roger Jones from The Good Agency also brought up the topic in a discussion we had about charities and social media.
Right now a lot of nonprofits are trying to understand how to engage Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y supporters. A lot of time and attention is being spent on how social media and mobile can be used to build relationships with Gen Y or Millennials. And there’s another group to add to the mix: Generation Thumb
Now, before I dive into Generation Thumb it’s probably helpful to do a quick recap on the different generation groups. There is some debate on exactly when these generations start and end. I won’t wade into that academic debate, but I use this chart in presentations to help explain the general age ranges and sizes of Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y.
Born Age Size Baby Boomers 1945 – 1960 49 – 64 78 million Generation X 1960 – 1980 29 – 49 51 million Generation Y 1980 – 1995 14 – 29 75 million
There is a lot of research into how each of these groups think, act, and engage differently. The biggest change to the nonprofit sector is that both Gen Xers and Gen Yers do not share the same giving attitudes as the Baby Boomers. While Boomers are more likely to view giving as part of a civic responsibility, the younger generations place a much higher emphasis on peer-to-peer and direct impact-based giving. This in part explains the growth of friends asking friends event fundraising, alternative giving options like Heifer International’s gift catalog, and websites like Kiva.org and Change.org.
Nonprofits need to balance how different generations have preferences to give their time, talent, and treasure based on where they are in their lives. It has certainly been well documented how Gen Y has been a positive source of volunteers for many nonprofit organizations. Blackbaud often does an age segmentation exercise with clients to get them to start thinking about how their constituents are spread across the different generations.
This leads us back to Generation Thumb. This group was born mostly after 1995 and their primary communication is mainly done on mobile devices. This means they spend a lot of time using their thumbs to type and navigate. It also accounts for the explosion of acronyms and abbreviations used to decrease typing time. An article in the Telegraph earlier this year noted that children get their first mobile phone at the average age of eight.
We don’t know what they think about nonprofits just yet, but the commercial world is doing a lot of research to try and understand them. As you continue to plan around inspiring and engaging Gen X and Gen Y then also begin to put Generation Thumb on your radar screen. This is a distant early warning that they are an even more unique audience.