Bonny Colville-Hyde

Product Director

Michael Wilkinson

Product Director

How you can grow Gen Z to be a strong ally for your charity

10 mins read
Gen Z climate change parade

Photo by Francesca Di Pasqua on Unsplash

Gen Z are changing the way every market has to operate, and charities and not for profit organisations need to adapt in order to stay relevant, and grow this group of younger supporters. The attitudes, behaviours and expectations exhibited by this group make it important to factor them into your fundraising and engagement strategies as you simply won't reach them using the same tactics as other age groups.

As part of our work here at Torchbox, we partner with many charities to explore how they can best engage their audiences digitally, both those who use their services and those who support them. We’ve heard an increasing amount of questions and worries from our clients that they don’t feel confident in how to engage Gen Z, and how to build relationships with this group.

There are a number of great quantitative studies that have been published about Gen Z in the past year or so, but some of these missed out the stories behind their participants actions which left us with many unanswered questions.

Reading these reports combined with our conversations with clients, have led us to run our own independent research with younger charity supporters so that we can build on our learnings, and share them with the wider charity community.

About our research

Our human centred design (HCD) team ran a small qualitative study, where we recruited Gen Z donors who were all between the ages of 18 and 27, and had made a charitable donation online in 2024. This made their experiences fresh and directly relevant to now. Our study ran in February and March this year so the donations were all relatively new.

We asked them about the charities they support, what prompts them to donate and what their experiences have been like donating. We also discussed the expectations they had for charities and what engages them, and how they want to stay in touch with those that they support.

Who are Gen Z?

Generation Z (also known as “Gen Z” or “Zoomers”) are younger than millennials and encompass people born between 1997 and 2012, which makes them currently between 12 and 28 years old. Their life experiences are markedly different to generations that have gone before them, for many reasons, one of which being the constant presence of social media throughout their lives. They’ve also experienced a significant amount of turbulence through the covid pandemic, and the cost of living crisis.

We found the participants we spoke to were bright, curious and had a strong sense of social responsibility. They were inspiring and thoughtful, and have given us many things to think about and question further. We’ve distilled what we heard into a series of themes that we hope will help you navigate understanding this group of donors better.

About Gen Z donations

We shared the initial results of our research during our recent webinar that is now available to watch on YouTube. You can find the link at the bottom of this blog. Below, we outline it in more detail.

We found three core themes that underpinned our participants' fundamental thoughts about making donations, and controlled their behaviour: unpredictable income, fear and high expectations. Let's unpack these in more detail:

Unpredictable income

I don't know how much I'll be able to do each month.

Carrie, Gen Z donor

Members of Gen Z tend to have limited funds, so the choices they make have as much significance to them as older donors with more disposable income. Choosing to donate has an impact on other things they can do, so their donations do come at a cost to them. We mustn’t make the mistake of thinking their donations have less impact on them just because they might be relatively small - they are still part of their identity.

The amount they can give changes due to having unstable employment and income. A traditional direct debit monthly donation may be hard for them to commit to, but it doesn't mean they don’t want to give regularly. The participants we spoke to had mixed employment status, and those who had a stable, regular job were more likely to have direct debits set up in the region of £5 to £10 per month. However for those with more unpredictable incomes, they talked about still wanting to give regularly, but not being able to make a monthly commitment. For some Members of Gen Z might just need different methods to allow them to give more often, such as reminders or prompts to ask if they would like to give this month. Doing this could unlock new regular donations from this audience.

For those who have even less financial security, we heard that they still have a desire to give, but they have to plan ahead much more. We heard an interesting story from one participant who used their Monzo banking app to set aside a donation “pot” they gradually added to before deciding who to donate the sum to.


I mentioned it to my Mum and she was initially concerned that it was a scam.

Danielle, Gen Z donor who had signed up to a monthly donation direct debit

Another important learning our participants gave us was their fear of being scammed. They talked about hearing stories of scams in the media and from their friends and family. They have a relatively high level of caution and scepticism, and our participants talked about different steps they take to validate that a charity is safe to donate to, such as looking them up on Trustpilot (this was a totally new approach for us to hear about!), and doing their own research on charity websites looking for evidence of how funds were spent year on year.

There’s nothing worse than people giving their hard earned cash only for it to not go where you think it's going to go.

Daniel, Gen Z donor

Some participants spoke sceptically about how some charities spent their donated income, and worried it was just paying for advertising or senior leadership salaries. One specifically mentioned wanting to see the “return on investment” for making a donation in the form of evidence that the charity was doing what it set out to do.

High expectations

Despite their lack of affluence and relatively small donation amounts, our participants told us strongly and clearly that they still had high expectations from the charities they choose to donate to: they want to know that their money has been used wisely, and told about it.

If I can't find information about exactly where the money is going, I'm much less likely to donate. And it's difficult because a lot of charities aren't very forthcoming with that.

Autumn, Gen Z donor

Ongoing communication following a donation is essential to maintain trust and build engagement with this age group - a donation is just the start of the relationship with them, and many participants spoke about wanting to do more with the charities they support such as fundraising, volunteering or campaigning. They expect the same level of communication from charities as they get from big brands like Nike.

Building an email and social media strategy around this age group will help you build that communication and connection they want, and enable you to keep them engaged and interested in your cause.

Who Gen Z donate to

Generally, we heard that donations are earnt over time, through multiple exposures to campaigns, and other coverage around an issue through social media, TV and what their friends and family are talking about. These exposures rarely spark impulse donations (with the exception of friends and family which we will come on to), and instead trigger action when they’re already primed and they see something at the right moment to respond.

Posts and ads on social media are the most frequent method of exposure here, and videos in particular are liked. Videos of people build stories and connections with people quickly, which is no surprise as more and more social media moves towards adopting short form video as an entertainment type. Stories about real people are the hook that got our participants attention, drew them in, and made them remember the charity. In some participants' recollections of donations they’d made, they talked about the stories they had read or watched above and beyond the charity itself. We’ll talk more about storytelling later on as it's so important.

We also heard about the presence of “on the street” campaigners and fundraisers increasing charities’ visibility and accessibility too. Engaging with face to face fundraisers was seen positively, and was a welcome experience to engage with them and discuss the work a charity does. Several participants referenced how the fundraisers had talked about the updates the charity would send them after setting up a donation which was important and memorable to the participants. The on the street presence isn’t just about fundraising, it's about raising awareness of work being done, and giving means to talk about the work being done, which shows an organisation's commitment to their cause.

We found this interesting as other research (such as Vogue Business’ & Archival’s exploration of how Gen Z broke the marketing funnel) has shown the importance of in person experiences on Gen Z in product purchasing, where the internet plays a key role in research and comparison activities, but the real world experience is still king.

For me the most important thing is transparency and having a genuine interest in the work that they do.

Isabel, Gen Z donor

Once they become a donor, they want to continue the relationship, and you need to be ready to do that with them. They expect more communication and exposure to your work, and the impact their donations have had. If you fail to grow that relationship they’re less likely to keep supporting your cause. Part of this involves how you “show” your charity's commitment to your cause to them, which comes through in your approach, attitude and communication content such as email updates. Participants who were highly engaged in specific charities work talked about updates prompting them to make one off donations.

If they're able to give me statistics about how they've helped and it has been really impactful, then that would sway me more to make a donation.

Danielle, Gen Z donor

Why Gen Z donate

Connections to people are the primary driver for donations.

This can be because of connections to the cause via friends or family who have been helped by a charity, or that they know someone who is fundraising and they want to support them. The connection is the crucial motivator to take action, and our participants talked about how they actively wanted to connect with their friends who were engaged in fundraising.

I had a mutual friend pass away in a hospice last year. She was only 17 and they were fundraising for the hospice… that's a very small charity and the money goes directly where it says it's going.

Autumn, Gen Z donor

We know from research conducted by other organisations such as Blackbaud (Donor Behaviour Insights 2023 report) that friends and family play a huge part in influencing people to donate to charities, and we’ve seen this within our research activities too. Participants talked about themes such as mental health being close to their hearts due to friends having issues and seeing the challenges they face first hand. Another participant told us she was approached by fundraisers for the Stroke Association on the street, a couple of months after her father had one and it prompted her to set up a monthly donation there and then because she could see the impact they had, and it was the right time and the right place.

As soon as I saw the name I thought I'll help them out even though I wasn’t actually that close to the person. It resonated with me at the time and give me a new perspective.

Danielle, Gen Z donor

I just like to make sure that I'm making a difference in the world, even if it’s just a couple of pence or a couple of pounds.

Josh, Gen Z donor

Participants talked indirectly about a sense of responsibility to support causes that are connected to them and that they care deeply about. Several talked about having felt a duty to give since they were children, and that the feeling hadn’t changed as they got older. They also shared examples of when they have changed their behaviour so as not to compromise their beliefs and this appears in their chosen charities they choose to engage with.

Key takeaways

There are three core ideas we think you should take away from this and use to compare your charities activities against. These are:

1. Impact messaging

How you communicate your impact, and how you stay in touch is crucial to maintain engagement with gen Z. They want frequent updates about how you are spending their hard earned money, even if they can’t give you much now. They like to see and hear stories from real people that bring to life the importance of your work. Make sure your communications strongly feature personal stories and clearly show that you are choosing to spend donations on impactful work that is making a measurable difference.

2. Communication

Gen Z have high expectations about how you will use their donations, and how you’ll communicate the impact THEY have had. The participants we spoke to compared charity communications with other brands they consume and made some interesting observations, for example, one participant spoke about how at the end of the year Spotify send them their “Wrapped” showcase of what they have listened to that year - why can't the charities they support do something similar and share the impact they’ve had through their donations that year?

Another participant told us how she buy’s hair products online and the brand she buys sends her emails each month that prompt her to remember to order her shampoo - but she doesn’t get that from the charities she’s supported. She might not have the financial stability to commit to a monthly direct debit, but she might make a donation each month if she was prompted to at the right time.

3. The long game

Engaging Gen Z donors and cultivating them to be lifelong loyal supporters is the long game here. They don’t have the spending power to replace donations from other age groups at the moment, but their behaviour and interest in the causes they care about could put a fire under your campaigning, activism and volunteering activities - if you find ways to hook them in.

Each email and communication you have with this age group is an opportunity to encourage a stronger relationship to grow within them, so supporting you becomes part of their identity, alongside other brands and causes they hold close. These are bright, clever and forward looking individuals who can spread your message, raise awareness, volunteer, fundraise and make donations. They have huge potential to be part of your strongest, most engaged audience for years to come.

To the future

If you’d like to explore the opportunities to better engage Gen Z with your work, and how you can integrate this audience into your fundraising strategy, we can help. We’re planning to continue running research in this area and will share more trends as we identify them, but if you can’t wait, or want specific help understanding how your proposition is working for this group please get in touch and we can discuss how we might be able to help you.

Chat to us about how to engage Gen Z with your work.

Get in touch

We shared the initial results of our research during our recent webinar that is now available to watch below.

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