The following blog first appeared on Philanthropy News Digest
Last month my mother called to tell me about a neighbor who had just been diagnosed with cancer. She talked about how sad the news made her, and told me the town was really coming together to do something for one of its own. In fact, local town leaders had already decided to organize a fundraiser for our friend.
While we were talking, my mother decided to check out the online fundraising page that had been set up. It didn’t take long for me to realize that something was bothering her. “Mom?” I prompted.
“I thought we were being asked to donate to the local cancer society,” she replied. “I’d feel a whole lot better if I knew something about the national organization or where my money was going.”
Her comment was interesting, in a number of ways. It suggested, first of all, that my mother is more motivated to give when she knows her donation will be used to support a cause close to home and/or understands how her donation will be used. But as we kept chatting, I realized that what she really wanted was to do something for our neighbor directly and in a way that helped our neighbor and her family in their hour of need.
Understanding that way of thinking and, more broadly, what motivates people to engage with a cause — your cause — is critically important if your nonprofit hopes to gain the support of donors and grow that support over time. And while, obviously, my mother is not a millennial, her comment illustrates a mindset related to cause behaviors that, in our research on millennials (see the Millennial Impact Report), we’ve encountered quite a bit. Indeed, as we conduct that research, we continually ask ourselves, What are the factors that influence (or discourage) millennial donors to support a cause or organization?
Over the years, our research has identified an emerging trend: individuals, in growing numbers, are pulling toward issues and away from organizations as their primary channel for social engagement. In fact, we’ve had to modify the phrasing of our questions to eliminate the terms “nonprofit organization” and “501(c)(3) entity” because so many more donors are giving to their favorite causes and beneficiaries through less traditional, more direct channels like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
What does all this mean for nonprofits?
In a world that’s more connected than ever, nonprofits must develop new ways of engaging their audiences or risk being left behind as shifting audience preferences fundamentally alter the nature of cause engagement. And this shift requires that nonprofits put more energy into becoming a platform where their target audience members can gather, connect, and take action. As a nonprofit leader or manager, your first priority in 2017 should be to clearly and effectively communicate how your organization’s work delivers on its mission and creates positive change in the lives of others. Your donors need to see, feel, and understand why a donation to your organization is a better choice than giving directly to an individual through a crowdfunding site (or doing nothing at all). In other words, you need to make them believe that, together, you can achieve something truly remarkable.
Your audience needs to come together through you, not for you.
People give for many different reasons, and in today’s nonprofit marketplace there are lots of options and tools to make the act of giving itself easy and convenient. Your organization’s goal in 2017 should be to convince your donors that, with your help, they can make a huge difference in the lives of the people you serve.
So, here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: Make next year all about changing the way your organization thinks about its donors. Don’t assume people will give to your organization because it’s engaged in efforts to address a social cause or issue. Instead, focus on how lucky and grateful you are that donors — today, more than ever — have a choice of when and how to help others, and that you are one of the options available to them.
Remember, at the end of the day, nonprofit organizations succeed (or fail) to the degree that they enable donors to feel, witness, and experience the impact their work has on others.
Happy Holidays. Here’s to success in the New Year!