Until recently, many nonprofits have focused on Millennials instead of Gen Z and understandably so. As digital natives, Millennials marked a shift for nonprofits and forced them to reconsider their use of technology and adoption of new communications channels. Their approach to careers was also different, with less loyalty to a specific employer and more moves from role to role.
Gen Z

But as English poet Geoffrey Chaucer first noted in his “Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale” (published in 1395!), “Time and tide wait for no man.”

Born between 1997 and 2010, Generation Z is quickly coming into their own. According to MediaKix, Gen Z is expected to reach 2.6 billion people globally in 2020, with 85 million members in the United States. That’s 24.7 percent of the American population – Gen Z will outnumber the Millennial and baby boomer generations that came before them.

Who is Generation Z?

Through virtue of their youth, open-mindedness and prolific use of technology, Gen Z and Millennials are often lumped together into a more homogenous group. Yet there’s more to the story. As a 2015 article in the New York Times observed, “Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the September 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Theirs is a story of innocence lost. Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession.”

This exposure to a time filled with life’s ups-and-downs, paired with unparalleled access to the latest news and global issues, creates a unique perspective. Their awareness of the potential for financial instability has made Generation Z more cautious, with 58 percent reporting they are either somewhat or very worried about their future and 57 percent reporting they’d rather save money than spend it immediately.

An interest in stability extends beyond finances. While some are years away from beginning a career, many members of Gen Z in the workforce display more traditional attitudes towards work and employment. On average, members of this generation say they want to work for only four companies through their careers, according to a 2015 study conducted by Robert Half. Similarly, they are more likely to indicate a preference for a traditional bricks-and-mortar workplace rather than working remotely. Generation Z grew up with technology, yet 53 percent prefer in-person communication over tools like instant messaging and video conferencing.

Yet they remain driven to make a difference. Per Time Magazine, Gen Z said that “having an impact on the world” is going to be important to them in their jobs. That’s a sharp increase from the 39 percent of millennials who expressed this sentiment in 2010, when they were in the same age range. They are socially aware and diverse, with more than half of Gen Z coming from a minority race by 2020 (US Census Bureau).

Capturing the Attention of the Gen Z Constituent

So how to attract this generation? We’ll be diving into this in more detail soon (stay tuned!). Every constituent is different, but there are some quick tips to get you thinking:

1. Meet them where they are

A report from Common Sense Media, notes teens and tweens of Generation Z spend between six and nine hours a day absorbing media on multiple platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. On average, Gen Z uses up to five screens to consume media. A lot of channels, a lot of screens creates competition for attention. It’s been noted that Generation Z has a short attention span, only eight seconds as opposed to 12 for Millennials.

When trying to connect with and deliver value to this group, it’s important to not only go where they go but to do so with the understanding of how the channels are used. YouTube attracts by far the biggest Gen Z audience as those users look for entertainment and fun content. They might be slightly less likely than Millennials to be Facebooking or Tweeting but are more likely to be watching which brands their favorite influencer is engaging with on Instagram or Snapchat.

Appreciate that messages across medium matter to Generation Z and that they’re taking action on what they’ve seen online. For an association, know they’re watching snackable content on a train ride via your YouTube channel. Donor-focused nonprofits should know, per the 2017 Giving Report, 59 percent of Gen Z reports being inspired to donate to charity by a message or image they saw on social media. Hashtags can help your messages break through and get discovered not only by those overwhelmed by their own updates but others who have not yet found you.

2. Tell Your Story and Tell It Well

Reaching Generation Z in the way, and places, that resonate best is only part of the battle.

Like their Gen X parents, Gen Z has had broad, lifelong exposure to media and expects authenticity from the organizations they interact with. Tell an inspiring story about your organization, paint a picture of how they can become involved and what the impact of their participation will be. Sincerity is key, and realistic narratives from people who look like them are particularly impactful in gaining and keeping their attention.

Next, bring your story to life. Meaningful relationships are built on trust and video offers one of the most powerful mediums for inspiring audiences. Visual content is key in telling your story. Show your purpose and illustrate possible solutions with actual donors and members. Photos and infographics also offer great ways to relay data in a memorable and digestible way.

3. Engage in a Meaningful Way

For the nonprofit who has captured the attention of Generation Z and compelled them to engage via a compelling story, opportunities are almost limitless. But to make the most of limited resources, it’s important to focus on programs and initiatives that may have specific value to this generation based on their experiences and where they are in their life.

For member-centric organizations, mentorship programs where Generation Z members are paired with others more experienced in their careers, can provide invaluable support during the transition from student to professional membership (not to mention the benefits of re-engaging your older members and allowing them to share hard-won knowledge).

Donor-focused charities have long engaged with Generation Z as fundraisers. Recent research from the Cassandra Report observes 26 percent have raised money for a cause and 32 percent have donated their own money (or allowances). But opportunities remain to connect supporters, deepen these relationships and allow this emerging group to exercise their social conscience. Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and embrace their desire to use social media for social good, not social currency.

Provide them with the tools to stand up for causes they’re passionate about. For those not in the workforce, volunteer opportunities create an amazing opportunity to build their resume and contribute to their communities. (Fresh out of fundraising ideas? Our friends at Wild Apricot have rounded up over 200 fundraising ideas here.)

Gen Z is here and they’re looking for us. While Millennials represented a seismic shift for many organizations, Gen Z allows us to build on our knowledge of the importance of segmentation and allows us to apply what we’ve learned. Their awareness and enthusiasm represent a huge opportunity for nonprofits both now and in the years to come.