Sep 27, 2023

Where Do Young Donors Place Trust?

Do young people trust organizations—nonprofit, religious or otherwise—with their financial support?

The Trust Factor, Barna’s latest installment in The State of Generosity series, offers fresh data and insights to help leaders inspire the next generation on their generosity journey. This article surfaces some key findings from the report, allowing both nonprofit and church leaders to better understand if Millennials and Gen Z trust organizations with their donations.

The Trust Factor

Connecting & Communicating with Young Donors

Trust of Nonprofit Organizations Is Moderately High Across Age Groups
Past Barna research of Gen Z and Millennials as well as new data published in The Trust Factor find young people’s overall trust of institutions trending lower than other generations. Now, how do those patterns connect more directly to giving practices?

Barna’s survey presented respondents with a few possible avenues for giving or fundraising: nonprofit organizations in general and faith-based options like religious organizations or Christian churches. We asked people how much they would trust each with their financial support, and their responses vary by generation—though not always in ways you’d expect. (We also asked about the more recent innovation of social media fundraisers, the findings of which can be found in The Trust Factor report.) 

When it comes to nonprofits, generations Gen Z through Gen X place a similar level of trust in organizations’ ability to use donations; about one-quarter in each group would “completely” trust these groups with their theoretical financial support. Percentages decline among Elders (20%) and especially among Boomers (11%).

Trust of Religious Organizations Lessens Across Generations, Especially Among Gen Z
A pretty similar pattern emerges when we look specifically at religious organizations. Roughly one in four adults across the generations (with the exception of Boomers) place complete trust in faith-based organizations when it comes to financial support.

This should be promising for faith-based organizations—but we cannot overlook the increase in the percentage of adults on the other end of the spectrum who say they would not trust a religious organization at all with their donations. Among Gen Z in particular, this proportion more than triples (from 5% who do not trust nonprofit organizations at all to 18% who do not trust religious organizations at all). Nearly one in five Millennials (18%) also feel this way.

Though the question did not specify what kind of religion such an organization might be affiliated with, we at least know that Christian organizations cause some donors (especially younger ones) to have their guards up. Gen Z and Millennials are more likely than older generations to say Christian values would make them “less interested” in financially supporting a nonprofit; about one in three says this is the case.

A Neutral But Hopeful Posture Toward Church Giving
A bit of a surprise in our data: Even though younger generations are statistically less likely to affiliate with religion in general or Christianity in particular, they still have high confidence that Christian churches can be trusted with financial support.

Reported trust is fairly steady across age groups, peaking with Gen Z (33% “completely trust”) but dipping among Boomers, who continue to have middling responses (just 21% “completely trust” churches with their financial support).

Still, nearly one in five Gen Z and Millennials say they do not trust churches at all with their financial support. With any faith-based forum for giving, it may be that there are some strong mindsets for or against financial support, bookending a moderate or undecided majority. The next generation’s trust in the Church’s work comes with some reservations—which makes sense as many of them, even Christians, are asking questions about the Church’s teachings, leadership and reputation.

The overall sentiment toward financial support of churches, including Gen Z’s relatively high trust, is encouraging for the future of church giving. Encouraging because there is fertile ground—but it needs nurturing.

The Trust Factor

Connecting & Communicating with Young Donors

About the Research

The State of Generosity is primarily based on an online quantitative survey of 2,016 U.S. adults conducted November 12–19, 2021. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors, and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the U.S. population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).

An additional online survey of 516 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted March 25–April 5, 2022. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s church panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

This report also includes data from:

  • an online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted May 23–31, 2023. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors, and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).
  • an online survey of 2,025 U.S. respondents ages 13–22. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Teens were recruited to participate in the quantitative survey through their parents. Parents answered seven screening questions about their teens, which included demographics such as age, gender and ethnicity. Quotas were set to obtain a sample of teens representative by region, race / ethnicity / nationality, socioeconomic status and gender.

Gen Z: Born between 1999 and 2015 (This report covers data on teens and young adults in this group, ages 13–21.)

Millennial: Born between 1984 and 1998

Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1983

Boomer: Born between 1946 and 1964

Elder: Born before 1946

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2023.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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The State of Generosity

We’ve teamed up with Gloo and a collective of partners to study the who, what, why and how of today’s giving landscape. We’re also looking to the future of giving, both in terms of trends and the next generation.

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