Participation graph

A giving generation gap?

Last week CAF and the University of Birmingham released ‘Mind the Gap’, a research paper on the growing generational divide in charitable giving. Using 30 years of data from the living costs and foods survey, the research issues a stark warning about the growing reliance of charities on donations from older age groups.

Clearly this is worrying for the long term fundraising prospects of charities. The data demonstrates this reliance in two ways; older people are more likely to give to charity, and those that give are likely to give a higher proportion of their income than younger people. As a result, the overall share of charitable donations from people over 60 is increasing, while those of other age groups are declining.

Looking at the oldest and youngest groups gives us stark results, but hides some dramatic findings at the centre of the age scale. So while the percentage of households under 30 giving to charity has dropped from 23.2% to 15.6%, this is far less dramatic than the drop in giving by households aged 45-59 (from 39.1% to 26.5%).

What’s really interesting about this research is that it allows us to look at donors at different stages of their lives. The data shows that people born in the 1930s were more likely to give throughout their lives than those born in the previous decade, and those born in the 1910s even less so. For those born between the 1940s and 1970s the trend reverses and progressively fewer people give at all ages in each subsequent decade. The picture then changes again. Those born in the 1970s and 1980s were far less likely to give at age 20 than in any previous decade. However by age 30, those born in the 1970s had caught up to the level of giving by those born in the 1960s, and it looks like the youngest generation could follow the pattern.


Of course, low levels of giving by younger people is concerning, and most charities would prefer to attract loyal donors as early as possible. But if donation rates rise rapidly between the ages of 20 and 30 then perhaps it’s not as bad as it first looks; young non-donors may well come to giving later in life. By using 30 years of data, this research enables us to see who gives at what age and how this is changing over time.

But it immediately raises the question of why these patterns emerge; what motivates people to give and does this change at different stages of life? It’s an issue which we hope to shed some light on through our Money for Good research. We are surveying 3,000 people to find out about their charitable giving across all age ranges, income levels and geographical locations, and we hope to have findings early in the new year.

We’re building on research done in the US, where they found six distinct donor types which cross-cut demographic groups. So while people may give more or less depending on their age or income, their reasons for doing so remain consistent throughout life. We’re not sure if this will be the same in the UK, but we hope the survey results will help fundraising charities to forge relationships with their donors, whatever their age.