Want to Know What Makes Millennials Tick? Hint: Ask One

by Blair Feehan

Millennials have the capacity and energy to light up the nonprofits they get involved with, but are totally underutilized as volunteers and under-engaged as donors. Is your nonprofit tapping into us? We’re a different breed than what you may be used to, and it may require a whole new set of strategies for your organization: scary, I know, but very do-able. The biggest question to ask when you start thinking about attracting young donors: are you really ready to attract young donors?

  • We’re much more likely to get involved because of our friends instead of your mission. For a while, I happened to be the only 20-something I knew carrying a torch for circus in Seattle, but after bringing my friends to events like Circus Open Mic and SANCA (School for Acrobatics and New Circus Arts) trapeze shows, they can speak about the impact of circus on childhood obesity, and some are even on the heels of attending their first circus fundraiser (and first fundraiser, for that matter). Help us get our friends involved by creating a social aspect to your fundraising (and friend-raising) approach.
  • Forget about snail mail. “If we get mail from you, we’ll wonder why you spent the time and money to print and stamp it. A witty email will catch our attention much better,” says Kristen Eddings, Program Associate at Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) and millennial advocate (and millennial herself, of course). Email also gives us an instant chance to follow up with you by providing us with a link to register for your event, donate to your organization, or just learn more via your website or social media. Plus, you’ll earn major environmentalism points.
  • Don’t expect major gifts – yet. Gifts of $25 or $50 are big for us: encourage giving at this level. If ten of our friends throw $50 your way at your event, you’ve earned what for many organizations is a major gift with almost no solicitation time. Remember, in just a few years, many young donors have gone from interns to coordinators to managers, which means we have a lot more discretionary money than we used to. Keep us coming back every year and you’ll see a return on your investment.
  • Entertain us. A local organization puts on an annual event targeted to millenials called “Agency.” Each year the party raises awareness and funds for a particular global health issue (different issues are chosen each year) Agency had elements like a silent disco (where everyone puts on headphones and dances in a big group to their own tunes) and a red carpet photo booth. Mission-centric? Nope. Hilarious and memorable? You bet. Agency’s “purpose” in 2010 was diarrheal disease among kids around the world – not the sexiest topic, or the easiest to raise money for, but Agency made it work. The party sold out and was able to raise awareness for through lots of creative educational opportunities before and during the event, not to mention donate 100 percent of ticket proceeds to organizations that fight this disease. When’s the last time you saw an organization with enough moxie to get folks all dressed up and out for a night on the town to talk about poop problems?
  • Appeal to our creativity. We’ll volunteer for your organization, but we don’t want to be licking stamps (see earlier tip on disdain for printed solicitations). Chances are we studied something really cool in college and are eager to trot it out: we might be experts on graphic design, or DJing, or underwater basketweaving, and you can bet we can help make your organization more innovative and get noticed with these skills. Spend some time getting to know us.

Not ready for us yet? That’s okay. We can be a lot to handle when you start from scratch. But all nonprofits, especially organizations with a focus on the arts, education, or with a membership base, may want to think about getting ready for us as your current donors and members age.

How does your organization approach young donors? Have you had successes (or utter failures)? We at TCG want to hear about it! Email me at blairf@collinsgroup.com, or, better yet, continue the conversation with TCG (@CollinsGrp) and me (@feehanbe) on Twitter.

Blair Feehan is the Project and Marketing Coordinator at The Collins Group, a member firm of The Giving Institute. Previously she served as the Center for Jewish Engagement Coordinator of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. When not advocating passionately for her fellow millennials and the nonprofit sector, Blair keeps busy by frequenting the technical theatre scene, playing drums in a rock band, and doing flying trapeze.