Understanding the assignment: 5 things about Gen Z your nonprofit needs to know

Issues and Impact | Blog | 4 mins.
Written By: Kelsey Thompson | Posted On: 10/25/2021

Those of you already spending time on TikTok or Instagram may have seen posts being rewarded for “understanding the assignment.” It’s a popular phrase amongst Gen Zers who applaud content creators for knowing what a situation requires and delivering results. Nonprofit organizations need to understand the assignment when it comes to building relationships with Gen Z, and the first step is getting to know them. For an even more detailed breakdown of Gen Z and their impact on giving, download our refreshed Future of Giving report.

Arguably the first digitally-native generation, Gen Z is between 10 and 25-years-old. Their very existence as the most diverse generation ever, with nearly half of the population identifying as non-white, is breaking social norms in every realm. They’ve grown up surrounded by existential threats such as climate change and the pandemic, formed a skeptical shield amidst declining trust in institutions, and belong to an era where anyone’s voice can be amplified on social media. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about Gen Z, so what worked for cultivating donors in the past shouldn’t be blindly repeated. 

Here’s what to know about Gen Z to future-proof your nonprofit.


Gen Z is rooted in its values.

The first thing to know about Gen Zers is that they are fervently values-driven; 88% believe their generation can change the world. Since they already have deeply-rooted value systems, Gen Zers aren’t on the market for new ones. That means organizations need to rethink their education outreach, and specifically shouldn’t try to lecture Gen Z about what causes to care about. 

Takeaway: Affirm Gen Z values. Rather than trying to teach Gen Z what values to have, organizations should start by showing they understand Gen Z beliefs to win their loyalty. Reflect Gen Z concerns and conversations in the digital spaces where they gather. Create easy-to-share content to help Gen Z express and post the values they, and your organization, champion.


Gen Z wants to hear from outsiders.

Forty-eight percent of Gen Z is non-white, making it the most diverse generation of all time. Breaking social traditions is not only inescapable for this generation; it’s actively embraced. Gen Z wants to hear from the voices that have historically been silenced in the decision-making process. They are replacing outdated identity barriers with reimagined representation. And they reward brands who boldly own their unique narrative. 

Takeaway: Amplify diverse, authentic voices. Understand that inclusion is existential for Gen Z. Put this into practice by ensuring your organization has representation as diverse as Gen Z itself. Use inclusive language around identity issues, and bring in Gen Z advisors to help your organization keep a pulse on the cultural conversation.


Gen Z is hungry for snack media.

The average Gen Z attention span is eight seconds. Getting on their radar means breaking down complex topics into bite-sized pieces that will be interesting enough to stop the scroll. It’s equally important to meet Gen Z where they are– their primary platform to learn about social causes is TikTok. 

Takeaway: Innovate your digital strategy. Organizations that build a winning digital approach for Gen Z are poised to win over the rest of the population since the pandemic has accelerated society’s shift online. Experiment with popular and emerging platforms to make sure your content reaches Gen Z. Create outreach templates that are highly personalized and adaptive to the ever-changing zeitgeist. Bring Gen Z leaders into your organization to navigate the emerging digital trends and make sure your organization embraces technology. 


Gen Z is searching for truth.

Not only do they want to share their own truth, Gen Z is searching for trustworthy online personalities. Wary of hallow sentiments from large institutions, Gen Z wants an organization leader to be someone they can both hold accountable and aspire toward. They continue to reward unapologetic, values-driven, authentic leaders who deliver on their promises.

Takeaway: Building trust is a highly personal and essential experience to Gen Z. Work hard to earn that trust, from honest communication to realistic goal-setting. Be transparent about past mistakes and follow through on correcting them. Build a community that allows for interactive and personalized experiences, and offer direct communication opportunities with members of your team. 


Gen Z celebrates influencers who combine talent, strong personal branding, and activism.

Those who thrive amongst Gen Zers create content that is inseparable from their values. Their stories are unexpected, and the causes they rally behind are personal. While some audiences may dismiss the power of influencers, 44% of Gen Z purchased something based on an influencer recommendation (compared to 26% of the older population). 

Takeaway: Influencers help build community and connection around a cause. Take a note from successful influencers who are reaching your audience. Better yet, find diverse influencers to radically reimagine your social campaigns. Affirm the work of Gen Zers who are promoting your cause or aligned with your mission. Amplify voices who have lived experience with your organization’s focus. 


Make sure you understand the assignment when it comes to winning over Gen Z. This generation can spot BS a mile away. They brush past lofty sentiments and hold organizations accountable for action. To Gen Z, the issues are personal and existential. Success begins with showing your organization’s values align with their own. Be unapologetic in sharing those values, and lift up as many perspectives as possible to amplify the mission. Most importantly, don’t attempt to do this alone. Bring Gen Z leaders into your organization to navigate the emerging digital trends and make sure your organization embraces the changes ahead. For even more insights, download our report, The Future of Giving.