The Importance of Millennials as Donors and Volunteers

Every fundraiser’s goal is to have a new group of donors waiting in the wings – and today, that group is the millennials. Also known as Generation Y, millennials are loosely defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials have been called “lazy,” “coddled,” and “narcissistic,” but as a millennial myself, I see my generation more as The New York Times labeled us: “optimistic, idealistic, and destined to do good.”

Don’t just take my word for it. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report, released by the Case Foundation and Achieve last month, proves that young people are ready, willing, and able to make a positive impact on nonprofits’ work. The report notes that 83% of millennials surveyed made a donation to a nonprofit in 2012, and 73% volunteered with a nonprofit in 2012.

As someone with more than five years’ of experience in fundraising for nonprofits, I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning but misguided attempts to engage my generation. As Colleen Dilenschneider aptly points out, many nonprofits approach millennials the wrong way, both as prospects and as donors. So how do you get millennials to become passionate donors to your organization?

Update your website – often!

75% of millennials surveyed in the 2013 Millennial Impact Report said that their biggest turnoff with nonprofits’ websites was that they had not been updated recently. I once worked at an organization that had an events calendar on its website which was supposed to emphasize to donors the sheer volume of programs and services that we provided. The only problem? The calendar hadn’t been updated in years, so it was completely blank.

At another organization, the 2008-2009 donor list languished online well into 2011. Millennials want to visit and re-visit websites, but when they see that yours isn’t being updated, they won’t come back. So don’t let your website become a graveyard! Make sure that it’s regularly updated with photos, videos, events, and announcements. Not only will this help your reputation with millennials, but it will also provide a boost for your website in search engine results.

Engage in social media – but do it right

Many nonprofits create Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts to reach out to millennials only to abandon the accounts weeks later.  Before you create an account on any social media platform, ask yourself one critical question: Do we have the time and staff capacity to update this page regularly and thoughtfully?

If not, your social media page may hurt your organization rather than help it. And remember, you don’t need to sign up for every new social media platform that comes out. As Claire Axelrad says, “Having a single, established social media destination is better than having a dozen, half-finished ones.” So it’s okay if you only have the time to maintain a Facebook page – just do it right!

Start a monthly giving program

52% of millennial respondents said they would be interested in monthly giving. Monthly giving is a great strategy for all donors, but it’s particularly appealing to younger donors who want to make small, but regular gifts. A millennial donor who can only afford to make $100 one-time donations could give $20 a month, more than doubling their annual giving.

Help millennials be your best volunteers

Millennials who volunteered with a nonprofit are 36% more likely to make a donation. Luckily, millennials make great volunteers because they tend to have more free time than older volunteers and they have expertise in a variety of fields, including technology. Instead of going straight for a gift, offer high-quality volunteer opportunities that allow millennials to engage directly with your work and become passionate about what you do.

Many millennials want to make a strong, long-term commitment to a cause and organization that they care deeply about. While the strategy to first engage millennial donors may be different than the approach to engage older donors, both require planning and thoughtfulness. And don’t forget that millennial donors, like all donors, require acknowledgment and stewardship.

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