Inside Perspective on Young Philanthropy

In today’s internet age, tweeting, blogging, and expansive friend requests on Facebook seem to have become major criteria for communicating and working effectively in the non-profit world. Non-profits, which often tend to lag behind in their mastery of technology, are working harder to stay current, innovative and most importantly communicative through different and ever advancing social media venues.

We often hear that this push for more technology is an effort to better engage the younger generations and ultimately to develop them as philanthropists. To address the motivations of younger donors, we turned to a member of the EHL Consulting team, Meredith Brooks, who finds these challenges quite interesting and intriguing. While perhaps not the “typical post college graduate” that non-profits are trying to engage, she does have a solid perspective on philanthropy and how non-profits should position themselves in general. Here are some of her thoughts. (Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin)

Inside Perspective on Young Philanthropy: How to Connect with these Donors

by Meredith Brooks

At age 25, philanthropy has already played a significant role in my life. I learned the value of tzedekah at an early age due to many hours spent at Hebrew School. I knew that helping others in need was the right thing to do, but like any normal kid hearing this from teachers wasn’t enough.

I thank my parents for cementing the importance of mitzvot by showing me how to give back . . . not just monetarily but by volunteering my time. I have a vivid memory of going with my parents to deliver gift baskets to Russian immigrant families who were virtually alone during the holiday season and feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness, as well as responsibility to continue to help such people in need. On another occasion, my father and I helped out at a local Special Olympics event which was an exhilarating experience for both of us. After having these (and other very memorable) experiences early on, I went on to pursue my own interests, participating in a variety of other hands-on volunteer experiences that address my evolving priorities and by entering the non-profit world professionally as well.

I say all of this, not in praise of my involvement, but to show that charitable involvement is something that can be learned and nurtured over time. Therefore, cultivating young donors is an important challenge for non-profits. As your non-profit looks to appeal to younger generations, here are a few things to think about and remember:

Technology is an important resource to utilize, but do it in appropriate terms. The concept of the electronic newsletter is a great way to get your message out to prospective donors of all ages, but be aware that no one wants to be inundated with emails. Therefore, periodic messages are the way to go. Sending updates too often will lead these emails directly into the trash because the messages seem tired! If you are a frequent mailer, consider the age-old “quality over quantity” (less is more) theme. Personal stories that tug on the heart strings tend to be the most effective as well as milestone announcements and concrete data. If you don’t have something important to say then it may not be the right time to reach out!

Facebook is not something new to my generation. I began using it in college strictly for social networking with friends and not professionally (like I use LinkedIn) But I also use Facebook to promote non-profit organizations and create awareness! I have joined several groups and attended charity events promoted on Facebook. Facebook is not a great venue to generate financial support; however, it helps to get a message out. But don’t over utilize! You don’t want your messages to be ignored.

I myself have not been convinced to join Twitter yet and there seems to be a preconceived notion by our seniors that all young professionals are on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever the next new online network is that pops up. Yes, as a whole we have a fairly advanced hold on technology and social networking, but personally Twitter has yet to draw me in. I do see value for non-profits that have the resources to provide timely, creative updates. But for now, I prefer to visit a host of different blogs. Note: blogs are a great way to connect with constituents!

Instant gratification is key. Having the ability to make a donation, send a tribute, and receive an acknowledgment for a contribution with the click of a mouse is a major plus. It’s not that we are lazy, but we like the immediacy of getting the task done as well as feeling like we can have instant impact. The use of text messaging is another appealing way to make donations. During the recent horrific crisis in Haiti, making contributions via text message reached new and inspiring levels! Clearly the urgency of the situation propelled individuals of all ages to contribute with speed. I believe that text message donations will become increasingly common and a method preferred by younger donors. Therefore, it is important for non-profits to recognize that offering such no-hassle methods will help them to meet the giving interests of younger philanthropists.

Recognition is important. In terms of donor recognition, my generation sees the benefit of a simple “thank you”; we don’t require anything extravagant. Young donors who are trying to make a connection with the organizations they support want and deserve to be recognized and feel like they’re making a direct impact. We want to know our contribution was received and is targeted for the specific interest that we support. At any age, it’s not about how the organization honors you and whether the recognition is “enough,” but it is still respectful to demonstrate appreciation.

Develop young leadership groups. My recent involvement in the Anti-Defamation League’s Glass Leadership Institute and corresponding annual conference has really opened my eyes to the importance of making a stronger commitment to the Jewish community. The program’s goal was to nurture young leaders, to provide an overview of the organization’s multi-faceted work, and show us that our age is not a limit to our opportunities. This program has helped me to see that I can make an impact on a worthwhile organization and become a leader without being a large donor, but by being an active advocate. I think that programs such as this really inspire young individuals to take on leadership roles and to develop life-long relationships, with the organization, its leaders, and other young professionals. The creation of young philanthropy groups within non-profits will help create young leaders with a sense of connection, commitment, and a channel for innovative thinking.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you craft your approaches to young philanthropy and most importantly, get out there and speak with young donors and agency employees! You might be surprised to learn how you can better motivate them to participate and to truly make a difference.

Meredith Brooks is the Director of Client Services of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and a frequent contributing firm to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.