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From Gen Y to Gen Z: Tips for reaching the next generation

How do I reach the next generation? Countless research dollars have been spent on this question. And, just as marketing professionals thought they had us millennial “kids” pinned down, we’re old news; an avocado-toast-eating, student-debt-drowning, golf-industry-killing generation of yesterday.

The new golden child, with birth years ranging from 1995 to present, has arrived. Catapulted into the digital world at birth, Generation Z is unlike any other previous generation and will soon represent 40 percent of consumers. Gen Zers also have a strong desire to do social good. So, how do we attract and engage this sizeable up-and-coming group of “Philanthrokids?”

The American Red Cross has managed to transcend generations of volunteers and donors for over 130 years, but that hasn’t occurred without close examination of what motivates different generations and what an attractive volunteer experience looks like to those generations. And, with a workforce consisting of 91 percent volunteers, and a mission that relies entirely on the generosity of donors, it’s important to recognize that a one-size-fits-all-generations communications approach is not effective.

Let’s take a look at what sets Gen Zers apart from previous generations and how marketing and communications can be tailored to capture their attention and (fingers crossed) their passion for your cause.

As the first generation born into the digital world, Gen Zers have an exclusive relationship with digital messaging. They rely on their devices to be entertained, be social and be informed. While previous generations have merely adopted the digital world and continue using other mediums to receive and relay information, this is not the case with Generation Z. The way to reach this new generation is almost exclusively through their devices. Gen Zers are watching less TV, more YouTube, and they embrace social media platforms that provide a better sense of anonymity like snapchat and Instagram.

Both nationally and regionally, the Red Cross has recognized the importance of an engaging social media presence. Here in Central PA, we’ve had success in reaching Gen Zers through the use of Snapchat Geofilters (overlays that are generated based on the user’s geographic location) during events. This is cost-effective when promoting activities that occur within limited geographic parameters and chunks of time. 

Gen Zers have an average attention span of eight seconds, so you need to be quick at catching their attention. This may seem incredibly short, but it’s only about 4 seconds less the previous generation. Some say this more like an “8-second filter” used to assess large amounts of information in a limitless digital world. Regardless, this means that fresh and engaging image and video content is more important than ever.

With fleeting attention spans in mind, the methods available to donate must also be quick and easy. While many Gen Zers have never written a check, they’re more likely to donate through text-to-give on their devices. Text-to-give enables donors the ability give the very second they feel inspired to do so and the donation amount is simply added to their phone bill – no credit cards, websites, or extra exertion required. This method has proved successful especially during national disasters like the hurricane season we experienced this year. Those following the devastation caused by back-to-back historic hurricanes were able to easily text “HARVEY,” “IRMA,” or “MARIA” to 90999 to donate $10 in support of those respective Red Cross recovery operations.

This may come as no surprise, but teens are heavily influenced by their peers. This generation likes their volunteer experience to be more like a social gathering. They’re more likely to volunteer with friends through extracurricular activities such as school clubs and sports. For example, our high school and college Red Cross Clubs provide Gen Zers the opportunity to grab their friends and make a meaningful impact in their communities through a variety of different service projects. Recognizing the importance of this opportunity to engage the next generation, we’re focused on expanding these clubs throughout our region.

What is different about this generation is that they like to utilize social networking and technology to support peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding campaigns. We’ve incorporated these fundraising techniques through initiatives such as our Sound the Alarm events that aim to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires. Growing up during a time of hyper-customization, a personalized fundraising page can provide Gen Zers a tool to leverage their networks of friends and family. 

Much like their Millennial siblings, Gen Zers want to see that the work they are doing is meaningful. With news instantly and constantly accessible at their fingertips, Gen Zers are fully aware of social issues and want to have an active part in the solution. Volunteer organizations need to offer this generation opportunities to see how their work directly impacts those they’re helping. It’s critical for them to understand how their work is making a real difference.

From our life-saving (332 lives nationwide, to be exact) Sound the Alarm smoke alarm installation events, to our Pillowcase Project that teaches children preparedness, to the Disaster Action Teams that respond to disasters every day, the opportunities to directly make a difference with the Red Cross are innumerable. For volunteer opportunities spanning all generations, visit

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