Generation Z and Philanthropy

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Career Opportunities
next generation
Generation Z is the youngest, largest, and most ethnically diverse generation in American history. These young adults and teenagers are technologically advanced, independent, entrepreneurial, realistic, and stand up for what they believe in. How do these digital natives demonstrate philanthropy and how can nonprofit and charities welcome these powerful newcomers?

by Jamie Mittman 


Generation Z is the youngest, largest, and most ethnically diverse generation in American history (Premack, 2018). Generation Z are young people born between the years 1996 and 2014 (Earls, 2017). Members of Generation Z are technologically advanced because they have never seen a world without the internet or cellphones. They are attracted to texting and messaging on online platforms which are sometimes preferred over face-to-face interactions. Generation Z spends six to nine hours a day online (Earls, 2017). This means they are absorbing tons of new information every single day (Robertson, 2018). Generation Z prefers visual information which is showed by; storytelling, explainer videos, and other formats of visualization which has caused their attention spans to be much shorter than previous generations at only 8 seconds (Robertson, 2018).  

Key characteristics of Generation Z include their independence, self-confidence and autonomy. They are not relying on their parents like past generations. The reasons include, a low-rate of helicopter parenting by their parents’ Generation X and because technology is allowing Generation Z to begin earning money at an early age (Earls, 2017), (Robertson, 2018). This generation is highly entrepreneurial with 76 percent of young people aiming to create jobs out of their hobbies (Ditmer, 2018). Generation Z is full of realists and are not as overly idealistic as the Millennials that came before them. They are aware of the ever-changing threat levels caused by terrorism, the highs and lows of the economy, and the environment which shapes their philanthropic priorities (Ditmer, 2018). However, they are more stressed than previous generations because they are worried about a variety of factors, which include; online personas, education, obligations and finances. Generation Z would rather stand and do, than sit and listen. They are pushing boundaries, working hard to make a difference, and breaking stereotypes.  


Historic Roots  

Generation Z is incredibly different than the generations that came before them because of the vastly different environment they’re growing up in. Directly before Generation Z came onto the scene, the new kids on the block were Generation Y, also known as Millennials who were born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials are idealistic, brand-conscious, and technologically advanced but are much less dependent on technology than Generation Z (Premack, 2018). Don’t lump Millennials and Generation Z into the same category though. They may be close in age, but their philanthropic views can be different. Generation Z is more likely than millennials to trust companies who demonstrate social responsibility (Young, 2019). However, Millennials are similar to Generation Z when it comes to donating money. They give a lower portion of total giving dollars than older generations by contributing 14 percent of total giving dollars, but they donate in similar ways and to similar causes as Generation Z. Millennials and Generation Z want to know that the organizations they’re giving resources to are actually supporting the challenges that are facing the world today (Makarov, 2019). Millennials also give online through websites and social media similar to Generation Z but at higher rates (Rovner, 2018).  

In order to understand Generation Z, we must look at who raised them, Generation X who were born between 1965 and 1980. They are being raised like their parents were. Generation Z is skeptical of the future, they view a college degree as important for reaching their goals, they have tough skin, and they are worried about their financial stability similar to their parents (Boyle, 2019). The oldest of Generation Z were 11 years-old when the Great Recession hit in 2008 and many saw their parents lose financial security, their jobs, and their homes (Do You Know Enough About Generation Z, 2017). This is the reason Generation Z is more concerned about finances at a young age than Millennials were because they grew up in relatively healthy economic environment. Even after the economic hardships, Generation X still contributes up to 23 percent of the total dollar amount of money donated to philanthropy. Generation X prioritizes health, local social services, and animals as overall giving priorities which is different than Generation Z (Rovner, 2018).  



Generation Z is the largest generation in American history and are estimated to have a $44 billion in buying power (Wertz, 2019). They are opportunists who want to gain experience, make connections, and lead (Johnston, 2018). Generation Z is highly motivated to change the world which is an important segment of the population for nonprofits to engage (Gen Z: The Next Generation of Donors, 2019). Generation Z represents about two percent of overall giving, but they are incredibly powerful when they decide to raise money by influencing others through digital technologies (Rovner, 2018). It will be decades until Generation Z becomes a large contributor in the philanthropic sector but when they do their giving is likely to reflect their distinctive racial and ethnic diversity, their status as digital natives, and their social cohesiveness (Rovner, 2018).  

Generation Z is looking for connection and inclusivity, in their personal and professional lives as well as the world around them. The problem is that Generation Z feels that older generations are not listening to what they have to say or what they can offer in terms of solutions to problems. This has sparked their drive to take action. Several social movements have been started in recent years by members of Generation Z. These include movement like March For Our Lives and Climate Kids. Students are skipping school to protest policy makers and corporations in order to to make their voices heard. These movements have encouraged young people to take matters into their own hands and urge policy makers to make change. Generation Z is good at taking action, therefore, charities who want their support should capitalize on these traits that this generation naturally possess in order to engage them (Gollihue, 2019). 


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector  

Generation Z has the urge to change the world because of the environment they are growing up in. Many young people believe that past generations have created problems, through greed and lack of responsibility, and are leaving them for future generations to solve (Gollihue, 2019). Generation Z is interested in results to major problems and expect them to be communicated clearly (Gollihue, 2019). This has shaped Generation Z’s giving priorities to represent what is most important to them. Generation Z has similar giving priorities to previous generations when it comes to health and children’s organizations. However, the biggest difference between Generation Z and past generations is their concern for the environment and how worship is prioritized significantly lower than Millennials, Baby Boomers (1944-1964), and Matures (born before 1943) (Rovner, 2018). 

Generation Z uses online channels to connect with charities at higher rates monthly than other generations (Rovner, 2018). Generation Z connects best with charities through posting/viewing videos, e-newsletters, signing online petitions, and purchasing products. Millennials have the second highest rate of connection through online channels, favoring e-newsletters, posting/viewing videos, and reading/posing blogs. Generation X came third, then Boomers, and Matures have the lowest rate of connection with charities through online channels. Generation Z says they mostly use smartphones to engage with causes and charities. This means charities need to have a mobile friendly platform for donors to engage with them because other generations also see mobile giving as an appropriate giving channel. (Rovner, 2018).  

Here are trends popping up within this cohort that demonstrate their charitable habits. Fifty-seven percent of young people will save their money rather than spend it, 32 percent of Generation Z donates their own money, 26 percent of 16 to 19 year-olds practice volunteering on a regular basis, fifty percent are looking for a job in volunteering, and 10 percent want to start their own nonprofit organization (Gen Z: The Next Generation of Donors, 2019). Nonprofits will want to take note of these trends and personalize their fundraising and engagement strategies in order to connect with this generation.  


Key Related Ideas  

It is crucial for nonprofits to find a way to engage with Generation Z. Their buying power, engagement with technology and passion for changing the world could transform the way philanthropy is done for future generations.  

Generation Z care more about the mission of an organization than they do anything else (Ditmer, 2018). It’s important to build meaningful relationships based on trust, therefore, nonprofits need to show the impact they are making and why donor gifts matter. Storytelling is the best way to build awareness about an organization for the younger generation. Telling an inspiring story about the organization through visual content is the best way to engage. The story needs to be told in a unique and memorable way because of Generation Z’s shorter attention span. Video is becoming a powerful medium and one of the most shared content on social media. While online, nonprofits need to show their purpose, the reason they need support, and possible solutions. (Gen Z: The Next Generation of Donors, 2019). 

These stories should be shared through the nonprofit’s social media accounts. Social media allows nonprofits to connect with younger audiences where they are, instead of encouraging them to come to a nonprofit’s website. Social Media makes it easy to share nonprofit information, photos, and mission content in order to create interest in the organization’s goals. The more available nonprofits are online, the more interest you can gain from Generation Z (Coke, 2017). Without social media, nonprofits will have a tremendously difficult time engaging with Generation Z. They have the highest giving rate through social media at 21 percent (Rovner, 2018). 

Creating volunteer opportunities is a great way for Generation Z to get involved with philanthropy. Generation Z still has decades before they can give large financial contributions to a nonprofit, but by creating volunteer opportunities it still allows them to support the mission of an organization and become imbedded in their culture. Twenty-six percent of Generation Z already volunteers their time regularly so engaging them now makes it more likely that they will give financial support to the nonprofit in the future (Toporoff, 2018).  


Important People Related to the Topic  

  • Greta Thunberg 

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist. She is best known for her speech that was delivered to the United Nations General Assembly to shame leaders from around the world for their failure to act on climate change. She has inspired youth around the world to take action on issues concerning climate change through social movements like, Climate Kids (Cranley, 2019). 

  • Malala Yousafzai 

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban after publicly speaking out about her fight to protect girls’ right to education. After surviving the attack she went on to share her story around the world and launched the Malala Fund in 2013 with her father to raise awareness about girl’s education internationally (Connley, 2018).  

  • Yara Shahidi 

Shahidi is an 18-year-old actress and activist who uses her platform to advocate for important issues like diversity in Hollywood, girls’ education and voter turnout. She’s turned her activism into action by launching a new initiative called Eighteen x ’18, which encouraged more young people to vote in elections (Connley, 2018). 


Related Nonprofit Organizations  

  • Arbor Day Foundation 

Founded in 1972, the centennial of the first Arbor Day observance in the 19th century, the Foundation has grown to become the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees, with over one million members, supporters, and valued partners. Recently the Arbor Day Foundation partnered with a team of YouTube creators to use social media and #TeamTrees to plant 20 million trees by 2020. 

  • Kids That Do Good  

The goal is connecting kids with ways to give back. They find charities, organizations, events or opportunities that welcome kids at a variety of ages. Kids That Do Good want to create a place where kids and their parents could discover ways to participate locally, regionally or even on a national level. They also want organizations to be able to easily recruit help and spread the word to like-minded people. 

  • Sierra Club 

The Sierra Club is the most enduring influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. They amplify the power of 3.5 million members and supporters to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.  



  • Boyle, Matthew. “Reality Bites Back: To Really Get Gen Z, Look at the Parents.” Bloomberg, July 29, 2019. 
  • Coke, Molly. “Firespring.” Firespring (blog), October 17, 2017. 
  • Connley, Courtney. “7 Female Activists under 23 Who Are Changing the World.” CNBC. CNBC, March 8, 2018. 
  • Cranley, Ellen. “These 10 Young Activists Are Trying to Move the Needle on Climate Change, Gun Control, and Other Global Issues.” Insider. Insider, October 1, 2019. 
  • Ditmer, Bob. “The Statistics You Need to Know If You Work with Gen Z.” ChurchLeaders, June 13, 2018. 
  • “Do You Know Enough About Generation Z?” Galaxy Digital Volunteer Management Software, September 29, 2017. 
  • Earls, Aaron. “10 Traits of Generation Z.” Facts & Trends, September 29, 2017. 
  • “Classy.” Classy (blog). Accessed December 10, 2019. 
  • Gollihue, Krystin. “Philanthropy Journal.” Philanthropy Journal Why Gen Z is Compelled to Do Good Comments, March 11, 2019. 
  • Johnston, Rachael. “Who Is Generation Z and How Will They Impact the Future of Associations?” Association Adviser, April 27, 2018. 
  • Makarov, Igor. “Philanthropy Amidst the Millennials.” Thrive Global, March 8, 2019. 
  • Premack, Rachel. “Millennials Love Their Brands, Gen Zs Are Terrified of College Debt, and 6 Other Ways Gen Zs and Millennials Are Totally Different.” Business Insider. Business Insider, July 12, 2018. 
  • Robertson, Steve. “Generation Z Characteristics & Traits That Explain the Way They Learn.” Over 20 Summer Camps, July 25, 2018. 
  • Rovner, Mark. “The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Matures.” The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Matures, n.d. 
  • Toporoff, Rebecca. “Generation Z: Who Are They and How Can My Nonprofit Engage with Them? - All Blog Posts.” DipJar. DipJar, January 22, 2018. 
  • Wertz, Jia. “How To Win Over Generation Z, Who Hold $44 Billion Of Buying Power.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, January 18, 2019. 
  • Young, Heike. “Millennials vs. Gen Z: How Are They Different?” Salesforce Blog, April 8, 2019. 

This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course in 2019 at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.