Bridging the Fundraising Generation Gap

We all know that major gifts are the bread and butter of any fundraising office. We also know that the majority of those major gifts come from older generations. But what happens as Generation X & Y age? Will the same traditional cultivation techniques work?

The simple answer is NO. So what do universities have to change to make these younger generations lifetime donors?

In order to find the right fundraising technique, it’s integral to understand that younger generations want to see the effect their gifts have. In fact, according to a recent Blackbaud study, 57% of Generation Y and 49% of Generation X cited that they wanted to see the impact of their donation.

Higher education needs to give donors a stronger ownership of their donations by connecting them with causes they care about and showing the tangible significance their gift has or will have. Traditional fundraising techniques have failed to accomplish this; mailers and phone-a-thons have only a few ways to earmark donations, and they all seem to fall into an abyss: a general fund, an annual fund… younger donors want to know EXACTLY where their money goes and the IMPACT that their gift makes.

One way to connect donors to their gifts is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding platforms allow colleges and universities to showcase amazing causes and allow donors to immediately see the impact of their gifts. Student activities, research, student scholarships, honoring a distinguished faculty member or alum, or even capital projects that incite competition across grad classes are perfect causes to highlight via crowdfunding.

And the great part is that you can have student groups, faculty members, or even fellow donors be the marketing engines for it! Let’s face it: most everyone shares aspects of their life on social media (even to the point of over sharing). Facilitating donors’ ability to share the philanthropic causes that matter to them is important and will encourage more donations (free marketing!). I mean, aren’t we all more likely to give if a close friend or family member asks us to?

Will this crowdfunding technique work for the Matures and the Baby Boomer generations? YES. The key is to understand their preferences and make sure some of those causes or fundraising challenges correspond to their giving habits. Older generations are more likely to donate in someone’s honor or as a tribute.

When Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) kicked off their crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, there was a request to establish a cause in memorandum of a highly esteemed faculty member. To date, this cause has attracted the greatest number of donors. WPI also found the crowdfunding platform to be a great way to steward major donors because donors could view all of the concurrent causes and contribute toward all of those that resonated with them. Donors can see the immediate impact their gift has made on the total amount raised and get the recognition they deserve on the leaderboard.

While traditional fundraising techniques can seem very transactional for donors who aren’t making major gifts, crowdfunding platforms offer a reservoir of opportunity to steward donors after the gift is made. The director of each cause can send followup emails and pictures of the cause’s progress, videos of the accomplished project, or even a live web feed during a ribbon cutting ceremony. After all, if you cultivate a relationship with these donors, it will strengthen their affinity for  your school, and they will be more inclined to continue to give over their lifetime.

To learn about another less traditional way to cultivate donor relationships and fundraise more efficiently, read about the incredible fundraising benefits of investing a few minutes in social media every day in this post by Syracuse University’s Dan Klamm.


Ashley Reidy is the co-founder of Alumni Fund, a crowdfunding platform for colleges and universities. She has three years of experience working with higher education leaders as a consultant. Feel free to connect with Ashley on Twitter or via email at

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments