Learn how your museum can cultivate and energize rising generations of donors.

Individual giving remains the top giving source for philanthropy in the US. However, obtaining and developing donors continues to challenge every sector, especially arts and culture. With shifts such as the Great Wealth Transfer and the younger donor generation’s differing priorities, learning how to engage the next generation of museum supporters is vital to fundraising success.

Individual Giving Remains Strong

Individual giving provided 64% of the nearly $499.33 billion donated to nonprofit organizations in 2022, significantly above other sources (foundations at 21%, bequests at 9%, and corporations at 6%). Yet 60% of surveyed arts and culture institutions reported that donor acquisition was their top fundraising challenge, and 47% said similarly of donor retention/stewardship.

As individual giving remains the majority source of fundraising revenue, and with nonprofits beginning to assess the potential impact of Gen X, Millennials, and even Gen Z in the philanthropic space, how can museums ensure that they appropriately cultivate their future supporters?

Next Generation — or Rising Generation?

The ability to optimally engage with these potential future supporters requires an understanding of who these groups are, such as generational differences, behaviors, and interests. However, the concept of the next generation of philanthropists can encompass people from their 20s to their 50s. While the term "next gen" is an easy way to lump those potential donors together, is it the most accurate?

Author Jay Hughes, Jr. feels that the term next gen "suggests a kind of dynastic succession" and ignores each generation's differentiated priorities and concerns and the individuals within it. He utilizes the term "rising gens" instead, highlighting that we cannot expect each generation to follow in the path of the one that came before. Instead, we should be prepared for them to chart their own course.

The great wealth transfer

Regardless of how we refer to them, addressing these challenges of attracting and retaining the next donor generations becomes even more apparent when we consider the wealth transfer that has already begun shifting assets among age groups. By 2045, over $84 trillion is anticipated to change hands, with approximately $73 trillion expected to transfer directly to heirs and approximately $12 trillion to philanthropic causes.

Those currently holding wealth prioritize arts and culture in their giving; it ranks second in their top five:

  1. Education
  2. Arts & Culture
  3. Healthcare & Medical Research
  4. Social Services
  5. Environment, Conservation, & Animals

However, we see that the rising generations—Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z—have different priorities:

9.3 million donors

Average yearly gift: $341

Give 3+ billion/year

Children | Animals | Health

34.1 million donors

Average yearly gift: $591

Give 20+ billion/year

Worship | Children | Social

35.6 million donors

Average yearly gift: $921

Give 32.9 billion/year

Health | Social Services | Animals

Noticeably, these generations deprioritize arts and culture when compared to those currently holding the largest wealth. This further validates the importance of creating an intentional set of generation-segmented engagement strategies.

The Next Donor Generation Is Generous

While the task facing museums would be easier if arts and culture were already among this group's top-valued causes, it is heartening to see the extent to which these generations have prioritized philanthropy. With a collective 79 million donors already giving over $56 billion a year, they are poised to continue growing the amount and the impact of their giving.

Rising gen donors agree—in a survey of high-net-worth individuals, 87% of respondents aged 21-42 (spanning Gen Z and Millennials) indicated they are prepared to support philanthropy. They went further, with 88% of Gen Z members and Millennials agreeing that "the next generation is strongly prepared to take on and support philanthropic causes" and 87% that "the next generation will be more effective in their philanthropic causes than older generations." This validates their commitment to giving, signaling a difference in how they will likely need to be engaged compared to older generations.

As organizations prioritize their fundraising strategies, they should explore generational trends around engagement. Various data points highlight nuances, such as the high value that Millennials place on experiences and how Gen Z prefers to give via social media. Further considerations include geographic and socio-political dynamics specific to each organization's location, culture, and mission.

Case Study for engaging the next generation of museum Donors

The Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation is a fitting example of a nonprofit arts organization focusing on the most pertinent trends and challenges and creating a structure to address them.

Founded in 1922 by Dr. Albert C. Barnes with a mission to promote "the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture," the Barnes Foundation has welcomed an average annual visitorship of 220,000 since moving to its location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia in 2012. Visitors come to view one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings, with especially deep holdings in Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. The collection also includes important examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture, American avant-garde painting, and wrought-iron metalwork. It is displayed in “ensembles” meant to draw out visual similarities between objects not normally thought of together. Created as teaching tools, they were essential to the educational program Dr. Barnes developed in the 1920s.

A Personalized Approach to Engaging Rising Generation Members

The Barnes Foundation's current strategic plan includes goals around fostering a learning culture, challenging the perceived elitism associated with art institutions, and convening Philadelphia's cultural community. The institution sees the involvement of rising generations as essential to achieving those objectives. Accordingly, the Barnes has thoughtfully assessed what rising generation members look for and how its points of entry facilitate their participation.

In doing so, the Barnes sought to address the following questions:

By intentionally and collaboratively seeking answers to these questions, the Barnes determined potential engagement platforms for rising generations across various interests.

Social Entertainment Young Professionals Nights
First Fridays
Barnes Art Ball
Professional Advancement Contemporaries Membership
Summer Soirée
Young Professional Leadership Board
Volunteer opportunities
Community partnerships
Personal Enrichment Membership and guest passes
Adult education classes
On-site, online, and hybrid programs
Group tours
Exhibition programming

Common threads tie these opportunities for engagement together. These include relevance to the mission and the opportunity for attendees to share experiences with peers and feel part of a collective with shared interests.

Next Steps for Cultivating Rising Generations of Museum Supporters

As you similarly seek to build out engagement offerings for members of the rising generations, consider the relevance of the questions posed by the Barnes. What additional questions would help you to develop an intentional and generation-segmented engagement plan?

Consider cost, ticketing, whether an event is invitation-only or open to all, and other logistics that may impact interest and attendance for the audience you aim to reach. Finally, think about the tools for engagement at your disposal, especially those that allow members of rising generations to co-create experiences and provide feedback on the events and programs they attend.

Cultivation Today Is Fundraising Success Tomorrow

Building a foundation of engagement for rising generations as the great wealth transfer continues does need to be a thoughtful process, but it does not need to be a difficult one. The key is to start now, even if that means starting small, to build the foundation for sustainable fundraising operations and growth.

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