Stop with the "Millennials Don't Give"

Part I of my two-part series on Millennials & fundraising

According to Coldwell Banker’s “Millennial Millionaires Report” (September 2019), “WealthEngine defines millionaires as those who have a net worth (assets minus liabilities) of over $1 million. ‘We focus on net worth as opposed to income because it is a more accurate accounting of ‘spendability,’’ explains Moira Boyle of WealthEngine. ‘It’s considered a better gauge of wealth because a person’s income is subject to all kinds of obligations that can leave little or nothing once bills are paid.’ According to WealthEngine data, there are approximately 618,000 millennial millionaires. Millennial millionaires make up approximately 2% of the total U.S. millionaire population and 0.2% of the general U.S. population —roughly the same volume as the total millionaire population during the country’s last millionaire boom in the early 1980s,’ notes Moira Boyle. The difference between the millionaires of the early 1980s and the ones being created today is that many of them stand to inherit even more wealth from their baby boomer parents, who are considered the wealthiest generation in history. This event has been called the ‘Great Wealth Transfer.’ Over the next few decades, it is estimated that $68 trillion will be passed down from aging Boomers to their beneficiaries.

Many of you are familiar with the “Great Wealth Transfer” (I hear it quoted often), but would you have ever thought that there were over 600,000 millionaires today between the ages of 24 and 39? And that many of these millennial millionaires are, financially, just getting going?

As I wrote in my book, Philanthropy Revolution, Forbes says that in 2018, 195 new billionaires were minted — or, in other words, a new billionaire is created every two days. And, as Chicago-based research firm “Spectrem” reported, the average age of US investors with $25M or more has dropped by eleven years since 2014 — to 47!

So why is it that, over and over again, I hear nonprofit leadership say “She’s too young” or “He might be worth talking to about a donation in a few years, but he couldn’t possibly make a significant gift now”, or suggest that anyone under 40(ish) be considered for the “Junior Board” — with a lower “give or get” requirement.

In the same way that we can’t judge someone’s charitable “capacity” by the value of their home, we shouldn’t be judging someone’s charitable capacity by their age. Someone could be 70 with a million-dollar-plus home, but there could be huge debt attached to it, leaving minimal discretionary resources or none at all. On the other hand, someone could be 26, renting a home, but with huge resources from stock, bonuses, inheritance, or all of the above. Guess which one gets contacted by the senior development folks?

The missed opportunities here are myriad.

I’m not suggesting that every millennial has huge assets, but enough of them do that ignoring them, or saying that “we just don’t have the resources to go after this younger segment” seems to me to be preposterous. And it should go without saying that this very large demographic isn’t “all” anything — they’re individual human beings, just like any other age group.

Hopefully, my message is clear. This is the year when people are being forced to do things differently. Some of those things (i.e. doing more work online from home) are substantive changes — for the better — that will no doubt “stick” after the pandemic is behind us. Thinking differently about donor prospects (i.e. getting rid of the pre-existing sentiment that certain segments of people don’t have money) will hopefully be another one of those changes that will become permanent as we move forward.

So get past any preconceived notions about Millennials and giving, and pay attention to that statistic about the 618,000 Millennial millionaires. You can increase the size of your fundraising “pie” if you just open your mind a bit. And, if you’re feeling confused about what people of different age groups are looking for, relative to support of nonprofits, you might want to start by checking out this great article from Keela.

Next week I’ll give you insight into why the “standard” pitch process doesn’t work with Millennials. Don’t miss it!

p.s. Millennials — and others — give of their time like nobody else. (Check out this article). Like I wrote about in August, look at your volunteer base and you might just find some donors in “them hills”.


I’m thrilled to share my first book, Philanthropy Revolution, with the world. I’m lifting the lid on our charitable sector with an authentic account that describes exactly how outdated the sector has become and why it’s at risk of collapse. Get your copy here.

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- Lisa