As the class of 2023 prepares to graduate this spring, advancement leaders can no longer ignore the increasing prevalence of Generation Z in their donor and alumni constituencies. The oldest members of Gen Z, a group that includes individuals born between 1997 and 2012, will turn 26 this year. While they represent just under 5% of all alumni, Gen Zers will make up one in five alumni by the decade's end. As such, advancement leaders must gain a better understanding of this generation's unique attributes and attitudes toward philanthropy.
Below, we outline five attributes that define this generation and how these will impact Gen Z's relationship with advancement.
1. Cost consciousness
Recent economic pressures have forced Gen Z to adopt a frugal mindset. As the cost of attendance at U.S. colleges continues to rise, Gen Z alumni graduate with more student loan debt than any generation before them. In fact, 47% of Gen Z adults already carry some form of debt, ranging from student loans to credit cards. In response, 75% of the generation seeks multiple streams of income.
Advancement shops should expect Gen Z’s frugality to affect their behavior as donors and alumni. While some Gen Zers may not even consider supporting their alma mater until they have finished paying down their student debt, others will set a very high bar for organizations to meet to earn their support. This generation will not likely give to their alma mater simply because of their loyalty. Instead, they will extensively research gift opportunities before making a donation.
2. Digital proficiency
Gen Z expects the organizations they engage with and support to meet high digital standards. Members of this generation have become accustomed to a world where online content is tailored to their individual preferences. As a result, 64% of Gen Z demand personalized experiences from the organizations they choose to engage with.
Advancement shops must keep up with Gen Z’s digital proficiency. At a minimum, Gen Z expects quick and personalized ways to give online. However, this generation also expects multi-platform engagement opportunities, including ways to volunteer in a digital format.
- EAB’s Digital Events Checklist for Advancement can help ensure higher education advancement delivers effective alumni engagement and fundraising events through virtual channels.
- EAB’s Giving Page Audit for Higher Ed can help optimize giving pages for online fundraising.
- EAB’s Remote Work and Hybrid Workplace Resource Center helps leaders navigate the rise in remote work in higher education.
3. Radical transparency and authenticity
Members of Gen Z have grown up during a time when they can bypass knowledge gatekeepers and find information directly from the internet. This has led to a greater expectation of information transparency from the organizations they support. When a Gen Z donor prepares to make a gift, they will likely act as a donor-investor expecting detailed information about the potential impact of their gift before they make any decisions.
Authenticity has also emerged as a top priority for this generation. Most Gen Zers say that a company’s reputation influences their decision to buy a product or service, while over half note that they will stop using a product they like if they disagree with a company’s stance on a social issue. If that’s true in the consumer sector, it’s even more true with philanthropy. Gen Z donors will support organizations that reflect their personal values. This means that they will also criticize an institution for any actions inconsistent with institutional values.
4. Multifaceted diversity
With 48% of the generation belonging to a racial or ethnic minority, Gen Z contains unprecedented diversity. They are also increasingly diverse along sexual and gender expression lines. This multifaceted diversity creates heightened expectations for institutional leadership to better serve diverse populations. Gen Z expects to see leadership that looks like them and will champion the needs of diverse populations.
While Gen Z’s expectations of leaders may be higher than preceding generations, those who meet these expectations can anticipate support. This generation cares deeply about the DEIJ efforts on campus and will likely support an institution that demonstrates a sustained commitment to these priorities. Advancement leaders should identify relevant DEIJ funding opportunities that provide Gen Z supporters with the chance to drive tangible change on campus.
5. Mental health challenges
Mental health concerns have been rising for many years and the COVID-19 pandemic only intensified those challenges. 42% of Gen Z have been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, placing the group at the forefront of the current mental health crisis. This has affected the way many members of the generation make decisions. For example, volunteers may consider how the extra time commitment will affect their mental health before joining a board.
While these challenges have worsened in recent years, increased awareness has opened the doors for many resources that may not have been available in the past. Members of Gen Z frequently advocate for improved mental health services and will likely consider supporting institutions that prioritize these concerns. However, EAB's first student mental health and well-being collaborative found that 51% of collaborative participants reported feeling unprepared to pitch an idea for a mental health or well-being initiative to a donor. Advancement leaders should consider connecting with student affairs and counseling center leaders to gain a better understanding of the mental health and well-being initiatives that may appeal to Gen Z donors.
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