By Jen Rosen
There are those who say millennials are ruining, among other things, the workforce, the traditional synagogue structure, department stores and, worst of all for those of us in the nonprofit sector, philanthropy. They’re not giving money, they’re not becoming members and donors and sustainers. They expect things for free and they’re not willing to give back to the organizations that give so much to them.
I can’t speak for the workforce, or synagogues or department stores, but I know that I disagree completely with the idea that young adults aren’t engaging philanthropically, and they demonstrate this every year.
At Moishe House, we have always believed it is our responsibility to not only share strong, value-added opportunities, but also to make it crystal clear how and why these services are able to exist. We share our organizational budgets with our young adult leaders (residents), talk about what sources of support that make the work possible and discuss where there are gaps in funding. We acknowledge donors on the walls in each house, in the house newsletters and we regularly facilitate conversations between our major community donors and the Moishe House residents and program participants. This is partially to express gratitude to our donors, but also to model and inspire philanthropy, and to plant a seed for future giving. And while all of these things are important, we realize they are not enough.
To be certain, many young adults benefit from organizations or things for “free” and they are often not returning the favor. However, we, the nonprofits ourselves, are actually the ones to blame. It’s our job to provide services that are of high value to their lives, and it’s also our job to ask them to invest in the work in return.
Moishe House has always been set up to ensure that the residents (the community builders living in the houses) are invested in multiple ways, but the idea of asking them to donate themselves has evolved over the last several years. When Moishe House was first established, its leadership researched other models that included housing and almost all included full housing subsidies, but the organization knew the residents would need to be personally invested as well. In addition to the hours the residents invested each week in programming, they also spent their own money on furnishings, utilities and a portion of the rent, and the model continues to operate this way. In 2011, when our first external evaluation was conducted, we began to understand young adults’ genuine interest in “giving back.” The study asked the residents about their likeliness to contribute money to Jewish causes or organizations. The findings showed us that 58 percent reported a strong likelihood to contribute money to Moishe House, and 53 percent reported a strong likelihood to contribute money to other Jewish organizations or causes. So, we created a platform for young adults to participate in and ask their peers to give back: our annual resident-driven “WE ARE” campaign.
This past year’s campaign was our largest to date. Over the course of seven weeks, Moishe House leaders in their 20s contributed and asked their peers and families to give, and in the end, raised $108,000, a 60 percent increase over the prior year. We are incredibly proud of these efforts and are realizing that we (the professionals) are the ones learning the most here. Given our unique vantage and the importance of cultivating millennials as consumers and investors, we wanted to share some trends and insights we gleaned from this past year’s campaign:
- While not a new notion, the idea of being able to invest in something specific and measurable is generally appealing to young adults. In our most recent campaign, we shared language that the donations would be used to directly support the programs in their particular location. People are inclined to support the exact thing in which they have experienced value and nearly 80 percent of the Moishe House participants donating to “WE ARE” designated their gift to their particular Moishe House.
- Recognition is important, and not just in thanking and appreciating the donors themselves. It’s also critical to provide ongoing gratitude and appreciation to the young adults driving the campaign. Our highest performing house in the campaign (Moishe House Boston – Cambridge) took it upon themselves to hold a donor celebration event to thank their community immediately following the campaign.
- It is critical to provide space for leaders to have unique ownership of their campaigns. We had 10 houses each raise more than $2,000 and each accomplished this in their own, authentic way. Moishe House Denver leveraged their high profile annual Halloween Bash and simply asked for donations at the door. Nearly every young adult gave funds during an event that they had previously attended for free. Moishe House Portland hosted an auction where participants could “name” items in the house, like the light fixtures, the kitchen nook and even the toilet. Moishe House Budapest made several planned “asks” during the campaign, through social media, at regular programs and then hosted a large event on the final day.
- Young adults can inspire young adults. The opportunity to hear from, and get inspired by individuals who are making a large impact through their own philanthropy is important cross-generationally so that young adults can envision their future paths. Sharing gifts to inspire other gifts works on a peer level, too. This year, four different Moishe House residents and alumni independently challenged their communities by making matching gifts of $1,000-$2,000 each! All of the matches were met.
- A set timeline inspires a sense of urgency and assures leaders their efforts will be limited to a short period of time. For this last campaign, we condensed our campaign from almost three months to less than two, and frankly, we will shorten it again next year. Residents reported a shorter time period inspired them to work harder and assured them they wouldn’t get worn out by an ongoing project.
- Platforms have to be easy-to-use. Young adults thrive in online communities but have shorter attention spans on average, so donation platforms have to be web- and mobile-friendly and simple to navigate. Through an online platform that easily linked to various social media platforms, residents could easily share their campaign with their peers and their customized landing pages (one per house) lent an air of legitimacy to their efforts.
Today, Moishe House is surely benefiting from the contributions our young adults are making back into the organization, and we now estimate that more than 50 percent of our donor base is under the age of 35. With that being said, we also believe encouraging philanthropic giving, and asking, is a critical part of our job. Success for us is not if young adults give to Moishe House, but rather, if they participate in Jewish philanthropy on a broader scope. Just as important as it is to make sure our residents feel confident in facilitating a Passover seder or building a sukkah, they must also feel confident in “giving back,” and just as we provide educational resources for the former, we must assume responsibility for teaching them the latter.
Jen Kraus Rosen joined Moishe House as the chief operating officer in 2010 and oversees the organization’s development and marketing efforts. She holds an executive certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University and graduated with a bachelor’s in public affairs and a certificate in Jewish Studies from Indiana University. Rosen resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Andrew, and their two daughters, Bayla and Scarlett.