Generations Apart – How do Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers interact with charities?

This week's blog looks at how generational cohorts differ in their knowledge and attitudes towards charities and analyses how generational attitudes and behaviours have shifted over time.


Jo Fischl

Whether it’s tropes about Millennials’ love of avocados or critiques of Baby Boomers’ as hoarders of the country’s wealth, the media and seemingly the wider public can’t get enough of the idea of generational strife. A few months ago, the catchphrase “OK Boomer” made its way from a social media meme to both the New Zealand parliament and the supreme court, whilst over the past couple of weeks the teenage Gen Z have been caught making fun of Millennials for their love of Harry Potter and Buzzfeed quizzes. Of course, much of this kind of commentary on the generations is tongue in cheek. Further, any assertions we make about these groups inevitably involve huge generalisations.

However, at the same time there are some very real economic and social disparities between the generations – which, alongside the world events we experience as we grow up – undoubtedly have a significant impact on our lifestyles and attitudes. Of course, some differences in attitudes are clearly related to life stage – and may change as we grow older. Others, however, are specific to our generation’s outlook and experiences, and won’t simply merge to match the previous generation’s viewpoint over time. We can ask for example what the long-term impact will be on the perspectives of those children and teenagers growing up at the time of the coronavirus pandemic alongside the looming threat of the climate emergency.

So, what relevance does generation have for charities? In our recent report for clients, Generations Apart, we explore how three key generational cohorts, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials (born 1981-1999) differ when it comes to their knowledge and attitudes towards charities. With over 10 years of trend data from our Charity Awareness Monitor, we are now able to see not only how generational cohorts vary in their approach to charity today but also how these attitudes and behaviours have shifted over time by following these cohorts through the last decade.

Here are our 5 key trends to watch from the report:

1. All three cohorts lost trust in charities: We have been tracking trust in institutions for a number of years, and have found trust in ‘charities’ as an entity to be highly volatile in comparison to trust in other institutions. We have seen considerable troughs in response to scandals, most notably in 2015 following months of negative coverage of charities including the story of Olive Cooke and culminating in the collapse of Kids Company. Whilst this means we need to be cautious in comparing trust at two points in time, it is notable that all three generational cohorts lost trust in charities between 2012 and 2019. In the 2019 data, 61% of Millennials now trust charities, compared to 68% in 2012. For Generation X the scores went from 66% down to 58%. For Baby Boomers the differences are slightly less stark – a fall from 63% to 59% (however, this latest score shows a recovery from a 2018 score of 53%).

2. All groups less likely to give: As we have reported elsewhere, giving as a whole has been falling over the past decade (recorded as % who have given in the past 3 months). This is true for all three of the cohorts – though, as the cohort on which many charities are most reliant, charities may be most alarmed to see the drop in Baby Boomer donors; 79% claimed to have given in 2009 compared to just 71% in 2019. Interestingly, Millennial giving has not fallen quite as sharply. This means that whereas in the past there was a higher likelihood to be a recent donor amongst older groups, this pattern is not nearly so clearly defined in 2019. There are also many interesting changes in the methods by which different cohorts give; for instance, we see increases in Millennial charity shop interactions whilst, perhaps concerningly for those trying to become more digital in their fundraising, Baby Boomers are yet to increase their likelihood to give online.

3. Favourite causes – Millennials now favour cancer charities, not children’s charities: When asked which category their favourite charities fall into, all three cohorts now choose cancer – this was not the case in 2012, when Millennials were more likely to favour children’s charities. It makes sense that cancer became more popular with the youngest cohort as they aged; over time we are more likely to have our lives impacted by cancer through family and friends. However, it may also be that cancer charities have been particularly successful in engaging with the younger demographic. The past decade has certainly taken its toll on the children’s sector, which has fallen in popularity amongst all three cohorts, but particularly amongst Millennials and Baby Boomers – we talk more about the challenges this sector is facing in our Child’s Play report. Interestingly, we see homelessness growing in popularity amongst all three cohorts, whilst the environment – amidst increasing concern over climate change in recent years – only seems to be growing as a favoured cause amongst Millennials.  

4. Worryingly, Millennial awareness of charities isn’t growing as they age: We tend to assume that as people grow older, they are naturally more exposed to charities – perhaps through personal experience of a cause, as well as simply through seeing more advertising/fundraising asks over time. To test this theory we took an average of the public’s awareness of a group of 52 charities in 2012 and then did this again with the same group of charities in the 2019 data. Surprisingly, we found that whilst this is indeed the case for Generation X and Baby Boomers whose awareness of charities slightly increased, it actually decreased amongst Millennials. This raises questions about why this might be happening – are the youngest groups engaging with charity in different ways which make them less exposed to particular charity brands? Or are charities not communicating in ways that reach out to and appeal to this audience?

5. What do the different cohorts expect from charities?: In our specialist brand product, the Charity Brand Evaluator, we delve into perceptions of charities, comparing this to what the public want when they think about their ideal charity brand. Although there was often agreement overall about the attributes of the “ideal” charity – all three groups were most likely to select ‘trustworthy’ out of twenty prompted attributes – there were some interesting differences in how the different cohorts under or over-indexed in their preferences. Baby Boomers generally selected words which tended towards reliability – they were even more likely than the other cohorts to prioritise trustworthiness but also emphasise words such as practical and established. A strong identity seemed important for Millennials, who were comparatively more likely to select words such as empowering and outspoken. Generation X were harder to define, rarely standing out above both of the other groups. However, they do gravitate towards compassionate adjectives; for instance, they were more likely than Baby Boomers to select friendly as an ideal adjective and more likely than Millennials to choose supportive.

The full Generations Apart report is now available to nfpSynergy clients only. If you’d like to find out more about the report, please get in touch. The majority of the data comes either from our Charity Awareness Monitor (CAM) or from the Charity Brand Evaluator (CBE). With CAM we can track and analyse your charity’s vital brand measures such as awareness, support and trust by generational cohort as well as by a wide range of other demographic and lifestyle breaks. To find out more about CAM please download the briefing pack or contact With CBE, we can dig deeper into how your brand is perceived, exploring the attributes which the public use to describe your brand and the extent to which these perceptions are driving your brand’s success. To find out more about CBE please download the CBE briefing pack in the link below or contact


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