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9 Ways To Engage Millennial Donors

Almost a quarter of all giving occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day (Indiana University on Philanthropy 2012 Study). In the process of reflecting on what we are most grateful for, we often feel compelled to give back to those who are less fortunate. With 1.5 million registered nonprofits competing for our attention and our funds in the U.S. alone, we have plenty of options. While some organizations have successfully adapted to new platforms and giving behaviors, many nonprofits still struggle to capture this new generation of donors.

We have compiled a list of nine tips and compelling case studies to help your organization better attract and engage young philanthropists.

#1. Be Transparent

60% of millennials say that the ability to see the direct impact of their donation has a significant bearing on their decision to give (Blackbaud). With the rise of the on-demand economy, we can track our pizza order from oven to doorstep and as a result, we also want to understand exactly where and how our donations are being put to work.

Currently in beta, The School Fund crowdfunds scholarships for high potential students in the developing world. The website allows donors to select which student they want to support and provides a snapshot of exactly how the funds will be allocated, giving donors direct insight into each step of the process.

#2. Optimize Across Platforms

With 50% of global web users now using mobile as their primary or exclusive means of going online, there’s no more excuse. Your website should be accessible and optimized for smartphone, tablet, and desktop. 42% of millennials admit to giving to “whatever inspires me at the moment” (Millennial Impact Report 2013), so you want to be ready to accept their gifts on whatever device, whenever the mood strikes.

#3. Offer Multiple Ways to Support

While Boomers still give the most on a total dollar basis (43% of all dollars donated according to Blackbaud), a higher percentage of millennials overall are philanthropically engaged compared to Boomers. To capitalize on this purpose-driven, yet impulsive generation, offer multiple ways for young supporters to contribute. Whether they find you on your website, Facebook page, or through an event, give them clear calls to action and try not to make it exclusively financial. Consider how valuable a Facebook “Like” could be, or an hour of their time as a volunteer.

Make a Wish recommends several ways to get involved and give back, including donating airline miles, volunteering, and participating in promotions from brands that support Make a Wish. They are also using one of their most popular engagement platforms, Facebook, to raise funds. Thanks to Facebook’s Charitable Giving tools, the “Donate” button allows visitors to make a direct donation without ever leaving the page.

#4. Don’t Sell Yourself, Sell The Cause

Millennials have become desensitized to anything that represents a sales pitch (i.e. most of traditional brand advertising). To get millennials’ attention, try selling them on the cause or the community you’re benefiting, rather than the organization itself. 85% percent of millennials are motivated to give by a compelling mission or cause, compared to 56% due to a personal connection or trust in the organization’s leadership (Millennial Impact Report 2011).

In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris last year, millions of Facebook users added a filter of the French flag to their profile pictures. While this initiative was inspired by the Human Rights Campaign, it was clear that it was not about the organization itself. HRC simply used its platform and reach to empower people to act in solidarity and demonstrate their support for the victims and their families.

#5. Make It Easy To Commit

From coffee beans to dog toys - pretty much anything is available by subscription these days. This new delivery method may be the solution to millennials’ notoriously fickle nature and lack of “loyalty” (in the traditional sense of the word) when it comes to cause-based giving. An added bonus is that making donations bite-size may attract new donors who shy away from contributing because they can’t commit to large amounts at this point in their lives. According to the Millennial Impact Report, there seems to be an appetite for these “micro-donations” with 52% of millennials admitting they’d be interested in monthly giving.

Pencils of Promise invites donors to become a member of their PASSPORT community. Every month, a small amount is automatically donated in your name with 100% of the funds going to support a school. This program not only makes it easy for donors to commit to sustained support, but it also makes them feel part of an exclusive community of donors.

#6. Give Them An Experience To Talk (and Tweet) About

Millennials are always on the lookout for buzzworthy experiences. In fact, most millennials are introduced to causes through events. While you may not have the funds to host a charity concert or a 5k run, smaller gatherings such as a guest bartender happy hour can be just as effective. Events not only present a great opportunity for donors to introduce their friends to your organization, but it can also be a way to engage young leaders in the planning process.  

Charity Miles is a mobile app that turns everyday experiences and activities into an opportunity to give back. The app allows you to choose your favorite charity and secure a sponsorship on the spot from big brands like Chobani or Johnson & Johnson. You can give back by doing anything from walking your dog or going on a run with a friend, to commuting to work on your bike.

#7. Tell Stories

The art of storytelling is critical to capturing the hearts (and wallets) of young donors. Most millennials may never come into direct contact with the ultimate beneficiaries of your work, but storytelling has the power to bridge this gap and help donors relate to the population you’re serving. Personal stories, conveyed through video or text, make the impact of a gift come to life.

GoodWeave is a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating child labor in rug weaving factories in Afghanistan, India, and Nepal. Their campaign video - Stand with Sanju - tells the story of a young girl who was taken from her family and put to work in a rug weaving factory where she cried herself to sleep each night and worked until her fingers bled. While you may recognize GoodWeave from its logo on rugs in the U.S., watching the video - which is narrated by a girl around Sanju’s age - gives you insight into the critical role they play on the ground.

#8. Acknowledge WIFM (“What’s In It For Me”)

Make giving a win-win proposition by showing your young donors how their involvement can benefit them on a personal level as well. Highlight the various opportunities they will have to develop new skills and expand their network of likeminded peers through joining a junior board or volunteering. According to Millennial Impact Report, this is what drives 72% of millennials to want to join a young nonprofit professional group (Millennial Impact Report 2013).

UNICEF’s Next Generation is a group of young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals who are committed to supporting the organization through a variety of volunteering and fundraising activities. Members of the junior board also have the opportunity to sit on various committees, giving them exposure to operational challenges at the highest levels of leadership. In addition to having an impact on children around the world, being part of UNICEF’s Next Generation is also an excellent resume builder.

#9. Leverage the Power of Networks

Millennials (and their younger counterparts) are the most networked generation to date. Take advantage of the “one to many” approach to marketing and ask your young donors to tap into their networks to raise awareness on your behalf. Millennials are far more likely to act on a recommendation from a friend or trusted source, so make it easy for them to broadcast a recent donation or encourage participation in your latest awareness campaign.

Several nonprofits have used challenges to create social media movements around their cause. By asking people to nominate their friends publicly to participate in a challenge and by providing a clear call to action to post a video and nominate the next person, it creates an unstoppable snowball effect. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 raised over $100 million from 3 million donors and the 22Kill push-up challenge quadrupled their goal of 22 million push-ups to raise awareness for veteran suicide.