Charities in trouble? How millennials are changing how we give

Devlyn Lalonde  December 10, 2018

By Devlyn Lalonde

If you are a charity you may be looking at the next generation of donors and scratching your head. You might have seen contradictory articles, telling you that millennials are both the most and the least charitable generations in modern history.  Much has been written about this subject and the answers to these commonly asked questions vary by region and economic circumstance. Here at Abacus Data we try to thoughtfully answer these questions with novel research and inquisitive minds. In our last wave of the Canadian Millennials Report, our bi-annual syndicated study, we asked 2,000 millennials about their contributions to charities; here is what we found.

Most millennial households make less than the Canadian median income of $70,336 and nearly 68% make less than $70,000. This tells us that with lower incomes, millennials will have a lower donation threshold relative to older income-earning Canadians. Using the latest StatsCan data we know that approximately 87% of Canadian baby boomers donate money to charities in any given year, while our research shows, that millennials donate at a much lower rate – only 48% of millennials donate money to charities and charitable causes.

Initial impressions of millennial giving suggest that millennials are either the stingiest generation in modern history or at the very least the poorest. Nevertheless, while millennials might not be as well-off as older generations (bearing in mind that they are just starting their careers) they do still contribute to the charitable ecosystem. Knowing that millennials make less than the average Canadian income-earner, we broadened our scope to include time and in-kind donations to charitable causes. When we included all forms of charitable donation (volunteering, food/clothes donations, and monetary) we find that 80% of millennials have donated to charities in the past year.

So, are Canadian millennials less charitable than their parents? The data would suggest that the answer to that question is no. While millennials do not donate money to charities at the same level as their parents do, they subsidise their lack of funds with their time and in-kind donations. How does the modern charity cope with this shift in giving? While you might see a trimming of your bottom line in the coming years it seems as though you also have an army of ready and willing volunteers. Alternatively, recognizing that millennials have less money to donate, charities could crowdfund their projects where millennials can collectively contribute to a smaller piece of the overall goal. The new age of the charity isn’t a bleak one, it’s full of new opportunities for those who are willing to shift their traditional operations model to one that recognizes the new reality of the donor.


If you want to get a handle on how your industry is being disruptive by generational change, contact us to see how we can help you get a head of the curve.

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