Understanding the Generational Divide – Millennials

This is the last instalment of a four-part series that delved into the generational divide and how this

This is the last instalment of a four-part series that delved into the generational divide and how this impacts legacy / gifts in wills / planned giving marketing and engagement.  The first installment explored the Traditionalist generation, then we get into the weeds with the Baby Boomer generation, and last week we covered the amazing Gen Xers (and my obvious bias with this generation!).

For the last 10 years, all we’ve been hearing at fundraising conferences is how to connect with Millennials, and how they don’t donate and they’re lazy. Sounds familiar? It always made me grind my teeth because every older generation says this about their younger counterparts.

This week, I’ll delve into the best, most dynamic generation of all … Generation X (also dubbed the MTV generation)! Oh oops, I may be a little biased 😉😁

The Pew Research Centre estimates there are about 2 billion Millennials – or 27% of the global population. About 58% of Millennials live in Asia. Let’s see the role they play in the future of legacies. 

Millennials – Generation Y (1981-1996)

Millennials is the generation most observed and researched since the Baby Boomer generation. Two-thirds of this generation were planned for and wanted by their parents. In contrast to their older siblings, this cohort grew up in the decade of the child, and has been molded by self­-esteem building parenting, education and counseling techniques. 

Their activities have been organized and planned for them by highly engaged parents. Unlike the latchkey kids of the 70’s, Millennials have been escorted and supervised by cautious parents who are extremely protective. From birth, this cohort has been educated on the dangers of society. Kidnapping, school violence and drugs have impacted members of this cohort’s lives and their view of the world as a ‘dangerous’ place. 

As children of interracial, multicultural relationships, this generation is more open-minded and tolerant of differences in race, religion, culture, sexual orientation or economic status than any other generation. Millennials have established relationships that extend beyond social and cultural lines. As the first truly global citizens, technology has empowered this generation to maintain close relationships through virtual communities and chat rooms with people outside their communities regardless of ethnicity or cultural background. 

Conversely, Millennials are less keen to get married and are having fewer children. At ease with new technology and the notion of constant change, Millennials have come to expect everything immediately, including challenging career opportunities. They are comfortable working independently however, are eager for guidance and coaching from their parents, managers and mentors.

The general overview of the identities and mindsets of each cohort can be linked to the life-defining events which have shaped and molded them. We will now explore the critical life events that have influenced each generation’s collective identity and how these experiences are translated into generational attitudes, values, characteristics and skills which impact workplace performance.

Life Defining Events

Each generational cohort experiences social, economic, and cultural events that shape its mindset and identity. These life-defining events bond people together through a shared coming of age experience. To fully engage with donors of all generations, it’s important to understand the life-defining events that each cohort has experienced to better appreciate the values, characteristics and skills each holds dear.

  • Falkland Islands War
  • Israel invades Lebanon to attack the PLO
  • Astronaut Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space
  • The Soviets boycott the Los Angeles Olympics
  • Tech innovation: Apple introduces the Mac, Nokia sends the first text messages
  • Challenger explosion
  • Fall of the Berlin Wall beginning the end of the Cold War
  • Tiananmen Square demonstrations
  • Iraq invades Kuwait and seizes oil assets, igniting the Persian Gulf War.
  • Nelson Mandela is freed after 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa, he’s later elected as president
  • Ethnic cleansing in Rwanda
  • O. J. Simpson
  • Unibomber in Oklahoma City
  • In Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is killed at a peace rally
  • Mad Cow Disease
  • School gun violence in the US
  • US-led war on terror

Impact on Legacies

Digital Approach

Millennials don’t know a world without technology, without wifi or mobiles. Almost all Millennials say they use the internet, and 19% are smartphone-only internet users. This will greatly impact how you engage with Millennials through a legacy journey. You will have to consider smartphone-only digital engagement journeys and approaches to inspire this legacy cohort. Digital marketing will have to absolutely be smartphone friendly.

Financial Outlook

Older Millennials were coming of age during the 2007-2008 Great Recession and are now hit again with the economic downfall due to the pandemic – at a time where they should be having more financial freedom and wealth building. This will greatly impact their ability to generate wealth for years to come. Hopefully, their financial outlook will improve if governments get creative with economic policies to re-energize the global economy.

Estate Planning

Older Millennials will likely start entering the estate planning stage of their life. As they begin to think through what and who will make it to their first will, charities must ensure they are communicating with this cohort and continue to proactively engage for the next ten years. Begin to capture donor preferences so you can continue to tailor and adapt your legacy messaging in a way that meets their needs and expectations.

In the same way that bridging engagement opportunities between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, legacy officers will have to creatively bridge engagement opportunities between Gen Xers and Millennials. Charities in Asia or INGOs that fundraise in Asia could greatly benefit in the future due to the fact that 58% of Millennials are in Asia. Normalizing gifts in wills throughout Asia will be in immense importance and should begin right away.


So there we are. We’ve covered 4 generations that charities should know so they can engage with their donors in the right way and in a way that inspires and excites donors of those generations. I hope this has been helpful and look forward to updating these profiles as trends and behaviours evolve.

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