This piece originally appeared in Fundraising & Philanthropy Australasia Magazine.
There’s a tradition for each generation to complain about the next – their entitlement, their apathy, their music. In the nonprofit world, generations complain about how the next generation isn’t as active or engaged in causes as they are. Historically, the media spread the generation gap story.
I’ve heard many nonprofit professionals label Generation Y or Millennials (born 1980-2000) as a generation of slacktivists (slacker + activists) – great for sharing information about a cause on Twitter or helping YouTube videos go viral, but other than that, useless to fundraising and development. I reject this label. Millennials care about causes, even if their preferences for involvement differ from those of older generations. If you want to engage this generation of do-gooders, you must learn what motivates them to help, act and give.
The power of feedback
The organisations that successfully pique Millennials’ desire to do good are causes that continually provide feedback and show them the difference that’s being made along the way.
One example is Generosity Water, a global humanitarian organization dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries. Its website’s homepage draws visitors into taking action with a video that shows the need and what an individual can do to alleviate the need. In this case, it asks individuals who are interested in the cause to help raise money. It offers a specific goal, requesting that participants gather 16 friends and each pledge to give $3.33 a month for three months – at the end of which you’ve raised $5,000, enough for a fully funded water project.
What sets this campaign apart is the constant feedback supporters receive throughout the process and the proof of impact at the end. Once you’ve helped fully fund a well, you receive project and community information, GPS coordinates of the well, photos of the well and community and a personalised plaque.
With Millennial donors, in particular, the process of learning how their gift is used is vital, together with constant communication along the way. Show them what actions are occurring on their behalf. Show them the story.
Time = treasure = talent
In addition, Millennials also treat all assets as equal. This means that, to the majority of them, assets such as time, money, skills, etc, are of equal importance when given to a cause. They view both their network and their voice as two additional types of assets they can offer a cause. Aided by technology, an individual who donates his or her voice may still give skills, time, and money, and then go beyond these actions to advocacy. Donating one’s network involves capitalising on professional and personal relationships to expose others to a cause.
In the Millennial Impact Project – a national study of Millennial cause engagement in the US – we found that the top three factors that spur Millennials to engage in a cause are: being passionate about the issue, meeting like-minded people, and enhancing their expertise. They want to lend their knowledge and experience as well as time to help a cause, – aspects which have not changed over the last four years of survey responses.
If Millennials treat all assets as equal, will they ever donate? Why bother getting them to care about the cause if they will never financially support a solution? Fortunately, Millennials will donate; however, you must offer them small actions to complete that eventually lead to larger engagement and finally lead to donations.
Actions that lead to donations
Is your cause receiving significant engagement on social media? Fantastic! Now leverage that audience. The real power of the Millennial is the influence they can have on their peers. That should be your goal when getting your Millennial audience to engage with your cause.
Start by introducing them to a cause. This may involve acquiring email addresses, hosting an event etc. Your introduction should be leading them to the second step, which is to share your cause with their friends and family. Social media has revolutionised this second step. Since we know Millennials view their assets as equal, sharing your cause on their social media channels will help spread your message and build commitment with the individual who is doing the sharing.
Next, give them an opportunity to serve. Millennials are a social group and the large majority prefers to serve or volunteer with groups. They also like to blend their personal and professional interests, so leveraging a service opportunity with the availability to network and meet new people will increase participation.
Once a Millennial has made it through the service step, they’re ready to personally support. Ask for a small donation first – $5 to $25 is a good first donation. Finally, the last step, you should be ready to give Millennials the resources and motivation they need to ask others for money on your behalf. This last step is why organisations like Generosity Water have so much success with Millennials and peer fundraising. Show them the impact their participation is having and you’ll have a passionate force that is invested in your cause.
The problem with Millennials and fundraising isn’t that this generation doesn’t care enough to actually give. Rather, they want to go about it in a different way. Millennials want to use their resources – friends, family and social networks – to help support a cause. Make it possible for all to occur.