Gen Xers want to be involved, expert says

By Laura Williams-Tracy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Though the term Generation X may conjure images of the late rock star Kurt Cobain and legions of flannel-wearing misanthropes, the next generation of charitable givers wants to make meaningful contributions, a nonprofit expert said.

The 40 million Americans born between 1965 and 1975 are far more savvy about technology than their predecessors, and expect more transparency in the finances of nonprofits, two characteristics that present both a challenge and opportunity for nonprofit groups, said Hedrick Belin, senior resource development director of Metropolitan Group in Portland, Ore.

Belin led a forum Oct. 11 in Charlotte on how Gen Xers approach charitable giving and how nonprofits can best attract those donors.

The forum was hosted by The Arts & Science Council and Foundation for the Arts & Sciences and sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

Gen Xers tend to be part of dual-income households made up of well-educated workers who are attaining stable careers and have money and energy to contribute, says Belin, whose firm communications and fundraising consulting firm that works primarily with nonprofits, government and socially responsible private businesses.

But at the same time, he says, Generation Xers demand a better balance of work and family life than do previous generations and face even more competition for the time they might have available for charitable or arts organizations.

The cohort, which is only half the size of the 80-million-strong Baby Boomer generation that preceded it, grew up with Ronald Reagan as president and lived in households of two working parents.

That environment created a generation more likely to challenge authority and less likely to trust large organizations, Belin said.

To win their trust, he said, organizations must provide transparency in the operations of their organization and their finances.

Members of this generation are entrepreneurial and want to have meaningful involvement with an organization, he said.

“They don’t just want to write a check,” he said. “They want to contribute their skills and their time and give in other ways.

Having mechanisms in place that appeal to the fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle of Gen Xers help foster involvement with charitable and arts organizations, he said.

The Portland Center Stage theater company initiated a program called Flex Passes for theater attendees that faced intense demands from work and family, and often could not make advance plans to attend a theater production.

With a program called Flex Pass, ticket buyers could buy a season pass but call for tickets on short notice as their schedule warranted.

Gen Xers also are far more comfortable using computers and often prefer online giving than previous groups of donors, Belin said.

“You’ve got a group that’s in its lifecycle ready to get engaged,” he said. “But if an organization doesn’t have the mechanism to engage, then they will move on to another organization.”

Terri Marshall, vice president of development for the Arts & Science Council, a nonprofit that serves and supports Charlotte’s cultural and arts organizations through grant-making, planning and fundraising, said her organization had put increased emphasis on online giving with an e-campaign program piloted last year to generate enthusiasm among this generation.

Online giving was so successful – adding to the record-breaking $10.88 million the organization raised in 2005 – that the program will be expanded when the campaign begins in January.

“Those nonprofits that are aware of this generation’s reasons for giving and preferences for giving will do better in the coming years and decades,” Marshall said.

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