Millennial Generation: Strategies to Engage and Communicate in the Philanthropic World

by Becky Leven

Gen-Y, has come of age. This millennial generation of 13-34 year olds is now 77 million strong[1] and is looking to make a difference in the world.[2] However, even as millennial make up an increasingly larger portion of the volunteers, donors, leaders, and workforce in the philanthropic world, there remains a disconnect between the way Gen-Y communicate with each other and the way organizations communicate to them.

This disconnect occurs when organizations and institutions fail to accurately grasp those characteristics which are commonly associated with Gen-Y and the evolving trends in modern communication. Everyone recognizes that the world is changing. Technology is constantly developing. The values and priorities that are common among Gen-Y are different than those of past generations. The challenge, even for for-profits, is in identifying the generation trends and making the connecting to changing technology and communication.

Once you understand the general direction and patterns within this age group you can begin to address communication and strategy.

We’ll break down a few broad categories, Social Interactions, Work Preferences, Communication, and Social Interaction and start connecting those dots between the patterns and strategy.

Engagement Patterns

We see great levels of nonprofit and cause engagement within the millennial generation – millennials are generally known to be civic minded and idealistic.

Millenials, however, tend to be sporadic when interfacing with causes and NPOs. While overall numbers of volunteers, donors, and advocates increase within the millennial generation, the relationship may be less commitment laden then one might hope. For example, a facebook page like today doesn’t necessarily indicate a lifetime advocate or a volunteer tomorrow.

So how is an organization to grapple with this?

1. Find those few people who indicate they may be interested in greater commitment or leadership and make it a priority to engage them.

  • Common indication of your future leaders may be high involvement in your social platforms or consistent volunteering.
  • Give these leaders the tools to be your advocates. This may be as simple as reaching out to them specifically with information about an upcoming event or giving them tools to run their own campaign. See United Way Houston for one example of how to approach this.

2.  Be easy to interact with through your website and social networks. If a person has trouble interacting with you through a preferred medium he is less likely to come back.

  • Web sites are increasingly accessed through mobile devices. Having a mobile enabled web page will allow for greater accessibility of your information.
  • Have a social network presence. This means not only being there but also actively engaging through your social networks. If people are asking questions or talking about you on twitter and facebook, be there to respond.

Social Interaction Trends

As millennials delay the start of families and are more mobile in their living arrangements, they look to create community in other ways then they may have in the past. Gen-Y looks to work, to community organizations, to professional organizations, and cause based organizations as a place to find and create as sense of belonging and community. Having events that provide the opportunity to socialize over a cause with likeminded people helps to attract those who are looking for a community.

1. Showcase your millennial community

As a general principle, people tend to gravitate towards those that are like them – so showing your younger audience there is a place for them in your community can be an incentive for greater involvement.

  • Having a young professionals group within your organization or special interest groups can be a good way to showcase the social opportunities available within your community.
  • Having images up from your events showing younger volunteers or members engaging quickly tells someone they have a home within your organization.

Working Patterns Applied to the Volunteer Space

Within the working word, studies have shown that millennials “Have low tolerance for less-than-challenging work and often perform poorly in high-volume and non-stimulating work”[3]

Why should this principle be any different when it comes to volunteering?

1. Offer opportunities for millennials to volunteer in ways that use their skills

Finding ways for millennials to use their skills as volunteers increases the depth of commitment to an organization. When a person feels they are contributing in a way that is meaningful to themselves and to an organization they are much more likely to stay involved.

  1. Create skills based committees within your organization for volunteers
  2. Put out a call in your newsletter or through social media for skills based volunteers

2. Partner with professional organizations and companies

  • Approaching volunteering from a skills based perspective also opens up new avenues for engaging with the population at large about your cause. It creates a pathway through which to approach professional organizations and companies for partnerships.
  • Millennials measure the quality of a company partially through its philanthropic and caused based initiatives. A partnership with an NPO or can be attractive to a company because it contributes to company culture and a companies attractiveness to millennial.

Effective Communication Patterns

Millennials have a reputation for impatience, often wanting to see results quickly. Not surprising given the technology we are used to today.

We live in a time of instantaneous feedback. You can click a mouse and a world of opportunities unfolds on a screen. We have become used to seeing what our time and efforts result in, and when those results are positive, we are incentivized to come back for more.

Providing positive feedback in a timely manner can be a powerful way to build loyalty among a millennial audience.

1. Provide feedback through your website and social media networks

  • How do you measure the success of an event? Money raised? People affected? Share these successes with your volunteers and donors who were involved.
  • Take and send photos of the results of a volunteer projects and successes! A picture is worth a thousand words

Approach your Gen-Y audience in a way that will help them experience accomplishment, and they are more likely to continue the cycle of involvement.

Millinieal-framework_Becky-e1396912112141The millennial generation is large in both size and in the potential to do good in the philanthropic world. By recognizing patterns within this generation and strategizing accordingly, we can be more effective enabling Gen-Y be the incredible volunteers, donors, leaders, and workforce they have the potential to be.

Becky Leven makes her millenial impact through her work with Tendenci – an Open Source CMS software platform for the nonprofit community. She strives to create technology that enables communities and people to do good.

Becky is a local net2 organizer and a member of various arts organizations in the Houston community. Becky herself is a millennial (and proud of it!) and recently spoke on a panel of experts at the Nonprofit Technology Conference on “The Power of Technology and the Millenial Generation”.

[1] “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2014.

[2] Jordon, J. (2007, Feb 15). Millennials on a mission. Business Week (Online), , 1.

[3] “New Generation, Great Expectations: A Field Study of the Millennial Generation”
Eddy S. W. Ng, Linda Schweitzer and Sean T. Lyons
Journal of Business and Psychology
Vol. 25, No. 2, Special Issue: Millennials and the World of Work: What You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know (June 2010) , pp. 281-292
Published by: Springer
Stable URL:

Other Great Reading:
1. “Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement” by Kari Dunn Sartovsky and Derrick Feldmann

2. Cone Millennial Cause Study

3. Millennial Impact Report