Blog / Trends

Financial Stress and Philanthropic Influence: The Precarious Promise of Generation Z

by Aimée Laramore, with research contributions from Crisol Beliz
Financial Stress and Philanthropic Influence: The Precarious Promise of Generation Z
Front cover of the "11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2024" reportThis article was first published in our 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2024 report. Explore the full report here.

Generation Z, the generation following millennials, was born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s (Dimock, 2019). Its oldest members are now entering the adult and professional worlds, raising important questions about how Gen Zers understand and experience personal finance and engage in philanthropy — and what implications this has for the nonprofit sector.

Gen Z has come of age affected by various forces, including terrorism, climate change, wage stagnation, and the double pandemic of COVID-19 and heightened attention to systemic racism. While older generations passed on the message of the American Dream — follow your passions, follow your heart, and do whatever you are led to do — that message has not naturally aligned with their lived experiences.

Fortunately, as Sneha Kashyap Thakur noted in an interview with VoyageAustin (2022), “The good news is that the next gen is anything but apathetic about making changes, whether through philanthropy or some other means” (para. 20). As they increasingly build assets and engage in philanthropy, Gen Z’s habits will reflect their experience.

Gen Z’s Financial Reality is an Everyday Struggle

Young Americans face many financial challenges, but chief among them is the cost of living weighed against today’s rate of pay. While wages have increased since 1970, they have not come close to keeping pace with the significant increase in the cost of goods over the last 50 years. According to research from ConsumerAffairs Research Team (2023):

  • Workers in their twenties today have 86% less purchasing power than baby boomers did at the same age.

  • “The cost of public and private school tuition has increased by 310% and 245%, respectively, since the 1970s” (para. 1).

  • “Gen Zers and millennials are paying 57% more per gallon of gas than baby boomers did in their 20s” (para. 1).

Gen Z operates with high levels of anxiety and worry caused by money-related challenges. In pursuit of economic security, this generation has pursued higher education with student loan debt — they are more likely to have loans (36% of older Gen Zers versus 31% of millennials) and to hold higher balances (Gen Zer’s median debt value is 14% higher than that of millennials) (Hernández Kent & Ricketts, 2022). According to a 2023 survey from Bankrate, 52% of Gen Zers report that money worries negatively impact their mental health and that their most significant financial concern is being able to pay for everyday expenses (Bennett).

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey also shows that about one-third of Gen Z respondents worry about the cost of living above all other concerns, 46% live paycheck to paycheck, and over a quarter doubt they’ll retire comfortably. A further Experian survey (2023) found that 61% of Gen Zers say they are “somewhat or very financially dependent” on their parents (Roman, para. 4). Taken together, this data underscores how Gen Z’s philanthropic preferences are likely to be shaped by an economic reality that is starkly different than the messaging of “you can do anything” and “follow your dreams.”

Gen Z’s Philanthropic Potential

Gen Z’s limited disposable income is a significant challenge to their philanthropic engagement, particularly among those who are still in school or early in their careers. Barna (2023), for instance, documents that in financial terms, Gen Z giving does lag behind other generations at this point. The good news, however, is that this limitation doesn’t deter them from contributing to causes they care about however they can.

“[I]n 2022, Gen Z adults made an average of 5.3 donations — notably more than the 4.8 made by millennials and 4.7 made by Generation X.”

Research from Abacus Cooperative revealed that in 2022, Gen Z adults made an average of 5.3 donations — notably more than the 4.8 made by millennials and 4.7 made by Generation X (Mansfield, 2023). Classy’s Why America Gives also reported that next-gen donors — defined in their study as millennials and Gen Z — “show a willingness to cut back in other areas to continue their charitable giving behavior and, in many cases, increase it. Next-gen donors are also more likely than [baby boomers and Gen X] to account for charitable donations in their financial planning” (2022, para. 55).

Further statistics support an optimistic outlook for Gen Z’s philanthropy across the “5 Ts” of time, talent, treasure, testimony, and ties: next-gen donors are three-times more likely than older donors to engage in advocacy for an organization or cause (Classy, 2022), and 20.3% of Gen Zers report volunteering in a formal capacity (AmeriCorps, 2022).

Communities of identity within Gen Z bring even more nuance to consider. Since 2010, Black families have proven to donate the largest proportion of their wealth to nonprofits (Ashley & James, 2018), while Latino families demonstrated the strongest tradition of multigenerational giving (The NonProfit Times, 2023). Given that 25% of Gen Z identified as Hispanic and 14% identified as Black (versus 18% and 15% respectively among millennials and 12% and 15% among Gen X) (Fry & Parker, 2018), these cultural norms are likely to play a major role in their philanthropy as they age.

Assessments vary as to the role Gen Z will play in activating the “Great Wealth Transfer” for philanthropy. On the one hand, some share of the estimated $84.4 trillion in family wealth traversing generations in the next two decades (Cerulli Associates) will certainly land with Gen Z. However, Prudential’s Gen X: Retirement Revisited (2023) demonstrated that only 12% of Gen X — the parents of most Gen Zers — expect to benefit from inherited wealth themselves, and 84% anticipate having nothing to pass on to their children.

Conclusion

While Gen Z may be deeply linked to charitable causes and interested in giving, ability is undeniably connected to financial capacity. As Bankrate (2023) notes, “The high rate of dependence on parents and the stress of paying for everyday living expenses reveal a generation grappling with economic challenges that undermine their financial security. Gen Z’s journey to financial independence will require more opportunities for well-paid work, affordable housing options and accessible financial education” (Bennett, para. 25). It is hard to be generous when financial stress is ever present.

Despite the perilous promise of Gen Z, this generation is eager to take advantage of new opportunities to do good. University of Pittsburgh defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre, for instance, is capitalizing on his success on the football field to help youth in his home country of Haiti. Alexandre’s philanthropy is possible because of the NCAA’s Name Image Likeness (NIL) policies — adopted in 2021 — which allow college athletes to earn money from endorsement deals, social media content, and other ventures (Rios, 2022). For his efforts, Alexandre and 21 other college football players recognized for their leadership across fundraising and volunteering for a variety of causes, were named to the 2022 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team (AFCA).

Gen Zers are also making remarkable impacts on the field through organizations like Resource Generation (assembling 18-to-35-year-olds committed to ending wealth inequality), March for Our Lives (established following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018), and Gen-Z for Change (young adults leveraging social media for civil discourse and activism).

This generation is not interested in sitting on the sidelines. Organizations seeking to engage the next generation should be mindful that the narrative of Gen Z is not limited to one set of factors or circumstances, whether economic insecurity, leveraged NIL brands, or beyond. But the reality of their lives demands that the philanthropic sector engages their giving with an understanding of how their economic realities shape their expectations and their philanthropic behavior. By engaging them effectively and astutely, philanthropy can help usher this generation into the fullness of their charitable promise, learning from their insights, demonstrated care, and activism along the way.


References

AFCA. (2022, September 19). 2022 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team celebrates college football players as community leaders. https://www.afca.com/2022-allstate-afca-good-works-team-celebrates-college-football-players-as-community-leaders/

AmeriCorps. (2022). Volunteering and civic life in America: Demographics. https://americorps.gov/about/our-impact/volunteering-civic-life/demographics

Ashley, S., & James, J. (2018, February 28). Despite the racial wealth gap, Black philanthropy is strong. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/despite-racial-wealth-gap-black-philanthropy-strong

Barna. (2023, August 2). How millennials & Gen Z are stepping into generosity. https://www.barna.com/research/young-adults-giving/

Bennett, R. (2023, June 26). Most Americans are significantly stressed about money — here’s how it varies by demographic. Bankrate. Ed: Karen Bennett. https://www.bankrate.com/banking/money-and-financial-stress-statistics/

Bennett, R. (2023, August 17). Gen Z’s unique money mindset and approach to financial wellness. Bankrate. https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/gen-z-money-mindset/#financial-advice-for-gen-z-from-bankrate-experts

Cerulli Associates. (2022, January 20). Cerulli anticipates $84 trillion in wealth transfers through 2045. https://www.cerulli.com/press-releases/cerulli-anticipates-84-trillion-in-wealth-transfers-through-2045

Classy. (2022). Why America Gives 2022: Finding resilience through donor loyalty. https://www.classy.org/why-america-gives/

ConsumerAffairs Research Team. (2023, June 1). Comparing the costs of generations: Gen Zers and millennials are paying nearly 100% more for their homes than baby boomers did in their twenties. Ed: Cassidy McCants. ConsumerAffairs.  https://www.consumeraffairs.com/finance/comparing-the-costs-of-generations.html

Deloitte. (2022). Striving for balance, advocating for change: The Deloitte global 2022 Gen Z & millennial survey. https://www.deloitte.com/content/dam/assets-shared/legacy/docs/about/2022/deloitte-2022-genz-millennial-survey.pdf

Dimock, M. (2019, January 17). Defining generations: Where millennials end and Generation Z begins. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/

Fry, R., & Parker, K. (2018, November 15). Early benchmarks show ‘Post-Millennials’ on track to be most diverse, best-educated generation yet. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/11/15/early-benchmarks-show-post-millennials-on-track-to-be-most-diverse-best-educated-generation-yet/

Gen-Z for Change. (n.d.) About our work. https://genzforchange.org

Hernández Kent, A., & Ricketts, L. R. (2022, August 25). How does Gen Z student debt compare to millennials? On the Economy Blog. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2022/aug/how-does-gen-z-student-debt-compare-millennials

Mansfield, K. (2023, July 14). Gen Z adults are the next big nonprofit donors. What can organizations do to stay relevant? Epsilon. https://www.epsilon.com/us/insights/blog/gen-z-are-the-next-big-nonprofit-donors

March for our Lives. (n.d.). End gun violence. https://marchforourlives.com

Prudential. (2023, June 7). Generation X confronts harsh new reality of retirement: unreadiness. https://news.prudential.com/latest-news/prudential-news/prudential-news-details/2023/Generation-X-confronts-harsh-new-reality-of-retirement-unreadiness-06-07-2023/default.aspx

Resource Generation. (n.d.). Who we are. https://resourcegeneration.org/who-we-are/

Rios, J. (2022, November 28). This Pitt Football Player is using NIL to aid Haiti. BestColleges. https://www.bestcolleges.com/news/pitt-football-player-is-using-nil-to-aid-haiti/

Roman, C. (2023, June 26). Survey says: Many Gen Zers and millennials seeking financial independence. Experian. https://www.experian.com/blogs/news/2023/06/26/gen-z-millennials-seeking-financial-independence/

The NonProfit Times. (2023, April 17). Live from AFP: Fundraisers not adapting to new donors. https://thenonprofittimes.com/donors/fundraisers-not-adapting-to-new-donors/

VoyageAustin. (2022, June 14). Sneakpeak into IDIA with Sneha Kashyap Thakur. https://voyageaustin.com/interview/sneakpeak-into-idia-with-sneha-kashyap-thakur/