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Why non-profits need to chase – and keep – Millennials

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? It was one of the most successful fundraising challenges in recent times, with over $115 million raised, not to mention priceless public awareness. And the driving force behind that campaign? The enthusiasm of Millennials.

They’re generation often criticised for being selfish and narcissistic, but, as with most broad brushstrokes, this doesn’t capture the reality. The truth is, Millennials are seeking causes they believe in.

There’s some debate around who Millennials actually are, but for many it’s those born between 1980 – 2000.  In regards to the Ice Bucket Challenge, it wasn’t only Millennials who got involved – they were also largely responsible for the social media coverage which fuelled the incredible results of this campaign.

Savvy not-for-profits know that a young adult who becomes engaged today could contribute hundreds of dollars over time and become part of a loyal supporter base. That’s why it’s so important for this generation to not only be aware of your organization, but to connect emotionally with your brand or cause.

Millennials: important facts and figures

In 2014, a report commissioned by Australian telecommunications company Optus (titled Generation We Not Me) discovered that Gen Y is contributing as much as, if not more than, preceding generation. What’s changed is their motivations and expectations.

The report found that the time and money given by Millennials is estimated to total more than AUD$3 billion each year, with 94% of Millennials donating to charity. The report also found that Millennials donate more than 16 million volunteer hours per month which equals around AUD$260 million.  And 67% of Millennials volunteered in 2013, compared to 62% of Gen Xs and 64% of Baby Boomers.

In fact, grassroots volunteering, regular giving to charitable causes, and creating movements (online and offline) are on the rise. And what makes this generation different from previous ones is the unprecedented speed that they can mobilise vast numbers of people to advocate or fundraise for a cause.

A generous generation

UK charity affiliate scheme Give as you Live, found that even though Millennial donors currently make up the smallest demographic in regards to charitable giving (due to their age, level of debt and lack of disposable income), they are nonetheless the generational cohort most likely to increase giving in the next 12 months.

This, combined with the fact that Millennials represent a larger population than Baby Boomers in many countries, indicates that organisations who effectively engage this group now will reap the benefits for years to come.

Cultivate involvement and experience

Before you convert a Millennial to a donor, it’s important to understand their motivations.

This is a group who value involvement and experience, so creating a sense of ownership around a fundraising activity can be the first building block of an ongoing relationship.

The Indiana State University Dance Marathon is a 36-hour dance marathon that takes place every November at Indiana University in the US to raise money and awareness for paediatric care. It’s the second-largest student-run philanthropy in the world, and since they began in 1991, they’ve raised over USD$28 million for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

The incredible results of this organisation show that a fun activity allows this group to mobilise with incredible efficiency. It also gives the people behind it a huge sense of pride.

Other ideas like cycling events, walking events and movie nights could be ways to engage Millennials so that they can build some fun factor into a fundraising activity. The most important thing to remember is to let them run with it and put their own ideas and spin on the activity.

These are investors in the future

Millennials are also much more peer driven than other generations and r

ely on recommendations, reviews, and research instead of advertising. In fact,

They’re engaged by storytelling, and they’re most likely to give when they’re inspired by an organisation and when they can see examples of the long-term impact their gifts will have. This increasing hunger for transparency is because they see themselves as a vital part of making the world a better place. They’re not donors – they’re investors in the future.

Regular giving is built on trust

Once you’ve built a basic connection, it’s time to take things to the next level. All non-profits need regular givers. We tend to focus on older generations for this, assuming they have more money, but younger generations are always seeking causes that sync up with their values.

The Optus We not Me report showed that 94% of Gen Ys have donated money to a charity or community group and 20% donate on a regular basis.  And when they earn more, they give more: 25% of those earning over $100,000 donate regularly to charity.  It’s a similar story globally: 52% of respondents to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report say they are interested in donating monthly to a charity.

The desire to give regularly is a result of values aligning and a sense of trust. Being open as an organisation and cultivating an authentic brand is an important part of connecting with any audience, but especially a younger audience who can sniff out fakery a mile away.

Given their ease with technology and expectations of access to information, Millennials demand all of this information in a digestible, easily understood, and (if possible) entertaining way.

When your content hits these vital targets, it’s more likely to be shared with family and friends. And even if the content doesn’t get shared, at least it will be clear what you do and  what you stand for.

Make online and social giving easy

In the US, overall donations to charitable organizations rose by 1.6 percent in 2015. By contrast, online donations grew by 9.2 percent. For many non-profits, online giving still accounts for a small part of total contributions, but the difference in growth rates between generations is striking.

Online donations have grown across all generations but are largely attributable to Millennials who grew up using smartphones, laptops, and tablets. For them, constant connection is a fact of life.

Whether they’re keeping in touch with friends or researching non-profits, Millennials are online. These days their journey with any brand increasingly starts on mobile, so successful Millennial engagement relies on a sleek and mobile responsive website, as well as ensuring you’re included on philanthropy platforms such as GoodCompany to expand your reach amongst new and corporate donors.

An emotional connection

To engage Millennials, it all comes down to showing your impact, and doing it in a way that’s engaging on digital and philanthropy platforms.

In many ways, it’s no different to the way we engage other generations. The technology may have changed and so have expectations – but connecting emotionally is something that will always be the most important factor in any communication.


Written by Esha Thaper @ The Fred Hollows Foundation

The Fred Hollows Foundation is a non-profit tackling avoidable blindness across the world and has consistently been named one of Australia’s Top 5 Reputable Charities.

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