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Volunteerism by the Generations: How to Engage Volunteers of All Ages!

Use this guide for diversifying your volunteer engagement strategy

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The selfless act of volunteering is timeless, transcending  generational boundaries. Acts of service are powerful and create a positive impact that unites people. Engaging volunteers across generations is vital to the strength, representation of experience, and impact of your volunteer program. 

However, each generation holds distinctive characteristics with different prevailing beliefs, attitudes, and values. So, naturally, the time period in which someone is born affects why, how, where, and when they choose to volunteer.

Because of these generational distinctions, engaging volunteers of multiple generations can be quite challenging, and requires a thoughtful and tailored approach. The more that you are able to offer opportunities and outreach with an awareness of these unique characteristics and capacities, the more you will strengthen your program.

In this practical guide to multigenerational volunteer involvement, we’ll explore the nuances of generational volunteer engagement and tips for engaging  each group.


Gen Z (1997 - 2012)

Generation Z is the most diverse in history. According to research published by the British Heart Foundation, Gen Z are the most likely to volunteer of any other age group. In fact, 46% of survey respondents said they had volunteered for a charity in their lifetime, while 24% specified they were currently engaged in volunteer work.

Gen Z are digitally native, tech savvy, and very focused on social justice.

How to engage Gen Z as Volunteers

Generation Z are strong supporters of social justice causes, such as #blacklivesmatter, LGBTQ+ rights, equality, environmental issues, and racial equity. Gen Z is also more likely to support causes that help victims of crime and abuse than preceding generations.

The best ways to engage Gen Z as volunteers:

    • Offer flexible volunteer opportunities. Be sure to provide a range of volunteer positions with varying time commitments that will accommodate the unique lifestyles and responsibilities of this generation. Remember, most of them are still in school. Micro Volunteerism is particularly appealing to Gen Z.
    • Make sure your Calls-to-Action are clear and to the point. Generation Z’s attention tends to be a bit shorter than other generations. This is not a bad thing; rather, it will force you to communicate clearly and concisely in order to capture their attention. 
    • Develop a solid presence on digital platforms. Utilize digital platforms, including onlinevolunteer sign up, mobile apps, and social media, to engage tech savvy Gen Z volunteers. If it’s not easy to connect, sign up, and share their experiences've lost a Gen Z volunteer.
    • Offer skill development opportunities through volunteering. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, more than 75% of Gen Z respondents are very interested in gaining work experience through volunteering. 
    • Modern volunteer management software. If your software is outdated, your Gen Z volunteers will hate using it. And is there anything worse than unlogged volunteer hours? When searching for a fitting volunteer management software, make sure it includes the tech features that Gen Z volunteers love, including QR code check in, gamified progress badges, volunteer resumes, and impact storytelling.

How to engage Gen Z as Donors

Nonprofits that focus on human services, animals, children, and education are among those most supported by Gen Z donors.

The 2017 Giving Report found that 59% of Gen Z were inspired to donate to a cause they saw through social media, while only 14% were moved to action through email. This is a generation of donors who are more likely to attend fundraising events and donate to international nonprofits than either Millennials or Baby Boomers - so it’s important to figure out how to engage them as donors!

Think about it: Gen Z has spent most of their lives in a digital-first environment.They already have powerful networks and influence in place in their own online communities due to their focus on social media. Volunteer organizations  should think about tapping into the networks of their Gen Z supporters in order to expand their reach and increase their impact.

The best ways to engage Gen Z as donors: 

  • Mobile apps
  • Online donations
  • Videos 
  • Social media fundraising campaigns
  • Tik Tok, Instagram, Youtube, Discord
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising approaches 
  • A solid online presence, from social media to your volunteer site

Millennials (1981 - 1996)

Millennials are digital natives, and many came of age during a period of rapid technological advancement. It’s important to note that rather than being born into this period like Gen Z, most Millennials migrated into the digital age. Therefore, this generation is highly adaptable, educated, and cause-oriented.

How to engage Millennials as Volunteers

Millennials are passionate, idealistic, and hungry to make a positive impact on the world. They value work-life balance and prioritize family and well-being over work. This means that volunteer programs have an excellent opportunity to build volunteer relationships with this group (and their children)!

The Millennial generation’s top causes include children and youth, animals and wildlife, and health and wellness. 

The best ways to engage Millennials as volunteers:

    • Corporate volunteer initiatives. Millennials expect companies to exhibit corporate social responsibility, and are increasingly prioritizing a company’s causes and Volunteer Paid Time Off when considering where to work. In fact, over 77% of Millennials choose their job based on that company’s causes or philanthropic work. Partner with local companies to gain access to a new pool of Millennial employee volunteers.
    • Family friendly opportunities. Many Millennials have children in the home. In order to reduce barriers for Millennials, try creating volunteer opportunities that are accessible for the entire family. Remember that family-friendly opportunities should still address relevant community needs.
    • Flexible volunteer opportunities. Provide a wide range of meaningful opportunities that address social, environmental, and community issues. Most Millennials are in the workforce, so offering flexible volunteering options, like one-time events or microvolunteering options, will allow them to more easily donate time to your cause.
    • Cultivate organizational transparency. More than generations before them, the Millennials place a high value on transparency and authenticity. Be transparent in your volunteer policy, your mission, the impact you’re making, and your finances. 
    • Share program impact. Millennials want to know how their contributions are making an impact. Make sure you regularly update your Millennial volunteers on program progress and share success stories that highlight their role in your story. 
    • Easy-to-use volunteer management software. As digital natives, Millennials want to use volunteer management technology with a modern-looking interface, automatic hours logging, and mobile check-in. 

How to engage Millennials as donors

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the workforce and therefore hold tremendous potential as donors. According to the 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report, 40% of Millennial donors are enrolled in a monthly giving program, and nearly 46% give to crowdfunding initiatives. 

39% of Millennials are most inspired to donate after seeing a social media campaign. When considering this is the most effective way to engage Gen Z as well, it’s a no brainer to focus your energy on online sources for donations.

The best ways to engage Millennials as donors: 

  • Create a monthly giving program
  • Hold fundraising events
  • Crowd-funding
  • Online and mobile-friendly donation system
  • Social media, especially Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook
  • Corporate matching or Dollars for Doers programs

Gen X (1965 - 1980)

Not to be overlooked, Gen X represents a sizable demographic that holds significant influence and financial capacity. This generation grew up in the post-war world that was markedly different from their parents or grandparents. Many were latchkey kids, or were raised by single, divorced, or working parents. The people of this generation are independent, hands-on, and impact-driven.

How to engage Gen X as Volunteers

In 2017, more than a third of Gen X volunteered, which accounted for a higher percentage of volunteerism than any other generation. Like Millennials, Gen X’s top causes include children and youth, animals and wildlife, and health and wellness.

The best ways to engage Gen X as volunteers:

  • Offer skills-based or mentorship opportunities.  Gen X doesn’t just want to make monetary donations; they want to roll up their sleeves and share their wealth of knowledge and expertise they’ve gained throughout their lifetime. Provide meaningful opportunities for them to get involved, such as board members, mentors, or in advisory roles.
  • Foster social connections. Generation X wants to connect with like-minded individuals and build relationships. Creating a sense of community through social events and networking opportunities goes a long way in engaging and retaining this generation of volunteers.

How to engage Gen X as donors

Gen X are very active in philanthropic pursuits. This generation gives more small and mid-level donations than any other group, and over 49% of Gen X donors are involved in monthly giving. Nearly 60% of Gen Xers will research an organization before donating, and they actively look for information on the senior leadership and changing-making of an organization. 

Pro tip: Gen X donors prefer to give recurring donations to just one or two organizations rather than spreading out their financial contributions - so make sure your organization stands out!

The best ways to engage Gen X as donors: 

  • Crowd-funding
  • Social media including Facebook and Twitter
  • Giving Tuesday (33% of Gen X participates!)
  • Keep your volunteer website up-to-date 
  • Include an About Us and Impact section on your website 

Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964)

Baby Boomers grew up during a time of post-war economic prosperity. They’re a “work hard, play harder” generation who created the idea of networking and the corporate atmosphere that persists today. Often characterized as hardworking, they view volunteerism through the lens of their career-driven lifestyle.

They value dedication, commitment, and loyalty, and may be competitive in both their personal and professional lives. Most Baby Boomers are now retired, so they represent an excellent group of potential donors and volunteers! 

How to engage Baby Boomers as Volunteers

This is the generation with the second highest volunteer rate! Baby Boomer’s top causes include health and wellness, children and youth, human and social services, animals and wildlife, and faith-based initiatives. 

The best ways to engage Baby Boomers as volunteers: 

  • Offer accessible volunteer opportunities. In order to be inclusive, your organization must be mindful of the differing physical capabilities for members of this generation (in fact, this should be on your radar for all generations). When designing opportunities aimed at Baby Boomers, make sure to include options that are more skills or interpersonal based rather than purely physical.

  • Send regular emails and newsletter updates. Because this is the most effective way to engage Baby Boomers, your nonprofit should spend time creating engaging email campaigns and newsletters.
  • Cultivate a sense of community. As many volunteers in this age bracket are retirees, they are often searching for a sense of community, belonging and purpose through volunteerism. Building a sense of community is the best way to attract these volunteers and keep them coming back! 

How to engage Baby Boomers as Donors

Baby Boomers are very active in philanthropy, with nearly 50% of this generation enrolled in a monthly giving program, worldwide. According to the 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report, Baby Boomers were most inspired to donate after attending a fundraising event.

Baby Boomers are the generation most likely to donate gifts up to $500, which represents a massive opportunity for the nonprofit sector.

The best ways to engage Baby Boomers as donors: 

  • Host fundraising events 
  • Direct mail campaigns 
  • Phone calls
  • Networking and social events
  • Facebook
  • Quarterly digital newsletters
  • Letter-writing 

Volunteer engagement across the generations takes an understanding of each group’s unique characteristics; including their motivations, communication styles, and values. By considering these traits and tailoring your volunteer and fundraising opportunities accordingly, you will bridge the generational gap and reach more people. When you appeal to a wider range of individuals, your volunteer program will be more sustainable, impactful, and inclusive as a result.


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