By Kari Saratovsky, Guest Blogger, KDS Strategies

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Having grown up in a society where “never talk to strangers” was ingrained into the heads of Millennials from a very early age, it may be surprising to learn that today Millennials aren’t just talking to strangers, they are relying on their opinions even more than those of their friends, family and colleagues. This comes into play when making decisions about purchasing everything from cars and electronics to vacations and even insurance plans.

As companies and institutions try and make sense of a generation with 80 Million voices and a collective buying power of $200 Billion, a new study is making it’s way into boardrooms and advertising agencies across the country. And there are many reasons that nonprofits may also want to take note.

Bazaarvoice, in partnership with The Center for Generational Kinetics and Kelton Research, recently released survey findings which indicate that over 30% of Millenials will not make a big ticket purchase without first checking on what others had to say about it. What’s more, through User Generated Content (UGC), the study found that 51% of Millennials say that consumer opinions of complete strangers found on a company’s website carry more weight than what their friends and family have to say.

If the study is true and Millennials have become seemingly dependent upon the opinions of others before making key buying decisions, could the same hold true when making decisions about affiliation and support of nonprofits? From the study, we see that Millennials want to interact with brands and companies and expect that those companies will provide more options to share their opinions.  In return, Millennials say they will be more likely to participate. So, if we can make the broad assumption that donors and organizational supporters will increasingly rely on referrals and guidance from friends, family and of course complete strangers now and in the future, then what do nonprofits need to do in order to not only allow for this to happen, but also encourage it?

Direct communications and particularly cold calls and direct mail solicitations by nonprofits will have far less of an impact than they have in the past. Rather than focusing on traditional engagement techniques, its time for organizations to relinquish some of their control. Millennials don’t want organizations to simply use social media to push out their messages, but instead they expect the give-and-take that makes social media such a dynamic means for communication.

Here are a few techniques for organizations to consider as they experiment and expand opportunities for User Generated Content on their own websites:

1. Add user generated content to your homepage and anywhere else your services are featured. This could be as simple as inviting donors to leave a public comment after they make a donation, or sending a link to volunteers after a service project so they can share their experiences with their friends and with the world. You can also use sites like Great Nonprofits, which offers a badge you can place on your homepage letting visitors see and submit reviews of your nonprofit directly through your website.

2. Ask people to respond. Don’t just make the opportunity available to individuals but go to the extra effort of inviting them to contribute. The response rate of Millennials in particular goes up dramatically when you ask them to respond, but you have to make it easy for them. If Millennials can’t find an easy way to take action, you’re going to lose them and they probably won’t come back. So incorporate UGC in a lot of different ways.

3. It’s not enough to have it and invite response — you need to respond yourself. This is a generation that expects quick recognition and an understanding that their voice has been heard.  Respond even if you don’t have an answer, it shows that you value them and it helps build trust that is so important to Millennials.

As supporters look for new ways to create, rate and control their experiences with nonprofits, what are other ways in which organizations can make it easy for them to do so? Share with us in the comments.

Kari Saratovsky has spent her career working in both the government and nonprofit sectors building strategic alliances, directing programs and facilitating national efforts that advance social change. KDS Strategies provides solutions to national and local organizations with a focus on innovative program design, strategic communications, social media strategy development, all with a unique understanding of next generation engagement. Prior to establishing KDS Strategies, Kari served as Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation.

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