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The Donors of Tomorrow

Why should you spend money and effort targeting millennials and even younger generations? After all, they’re less likely to be large donors. You need to move your fundraising needle TODAY, and that leaves little time for simply building relationships.

Sound familiar? You’ve probably been in meetings where similar statements were made. And you nodded in agreement. I understand your dilemma and hear your concern, but you’re wrong.

Take a look at your donors. Are they primarily over the age of 60? If the answer is yes, your board and staff need to consider the long-term sustainability of your nonprofit. Your organization, and therefore your mission, is at risk if you’re not building relationships with younger audiences. Where do you think your current donors will be in 20-30 years? Don’t neglect those current donors but don’t be blinded to the possibilities of the younger crowd and their long-term value.

Take a look at your donors. Are they primarily over the age of 60? If the answer is yes, your board and staff need to consider the long-term sustainability of your nonprofit.

So, how do you reach these donors of tomorrow?

For the purpose of this post, I’m talking about Millennials and Generation Z when I reference younger generations. That demographic is roughly 15 – 35 years old. While we should be careful in narrowly defining broad generations, research shows that this audience has strong feelings about a couple of things that forward-thinking nonprofits can use to their advantage. Here are the key attributes nonprofits should offer young audiences to build better donor engagement:

Technology that is EASY.

Your technology must be easy-to-use, work as expected and mobile. You will not get a pass on crappy technology because you’re a nonprofit. It MUST be good, meaning it must WORK and work well. This can’t be overstated. It must also be mobile. Not only will a responsive website help you with the search engines, but more people are now using the internet on their phones than desktop devices. If you don’t have a mobile web experience that is native to the device, your donor engagement will suffer. Like talking Game of Thrones suffering here.

Use this amazing mobile experience to increase your donations with a custom, out-of-the-box donation page. Most donation platforms need to be customized in order to include tested donation page optimization best practices. Once you’ve got the optimization down, test and test again to make incremental improvements to your donation process (as evidenced by increased donations).

Remember to also think about social platform technologies. Take a look at the demographics of the younger audience you’re trying to reach and find them on alternative social networks you may not already be in – SnapchatWhisper, etc. These guys grew up sharing (and oversharing) so get in there where they can find you.

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Design as a cost of entry.

Fast Company said it best, “For Millennials, design is not a differentiator—it’s a cost of entry.” These guys grew up in the age of Apple. Apple’s ground-breaking 1984 commercial came into the world at the same time as a lot of our Millennials. It disrupted design as we knew it. And this disrupted world of design is the only one Millennials have known. The business world started reflecting this a few years ago when they started putting designers at executive tables. They’re now hiring designers in higher numbers than agencies. They saw the positive impact design can have on the bottom line and they’re riding the wave. You should too. Good design is effortless and trustworthy.

Hand in hand with technology, design is also about user experience. Not only should it work but it should also delight. Delight increases donor engagement. This interactive experience from Saturday Place is a good example of delight through design.

Recognition and More Recognition

Millennials grew up getting likes and shares. They matter to them. Hell, some people will remove posts if they don’t get enough likes or thumb ups or what have you. So consider how you can use this to your advantage. United Way for Greater Austin did a “Thank You Thursday” campaign where they socially thanked a volunteer from their Young Leaders Society, including a photo of them in action, every Thursday. And maybe, just maybe, they chose members that had a large social following.

Have you tried a swag campaign? Younger audiences, and most people in general, like getting something in return. Maybe it’s a Kickstarter campaign where you get better swag as your donation increases. Better yet, you could increase the return from swag to experiences as the donation increases (but more on that later).

Keep in mind that these audiences care about the brands they align with. They want to align with an organization whose values reflect their own. This often means tech-driven, forward-thinking and modern. “Legacy” is not a positive for them. They don’t necessarily want to be associated with their grandma’s nonprofit of choice. I’m looking at you big national brands who’ve been around for 100 .

Transparency and Variety

Young audiences want to make an investment in change and keep abreast of that investment. Donor retention strategies like sharing impact stories and stats are a must-have. That want transparency and trust around how their money is spent. Make sure your charity rating sites (Charity Navigator, Guidestar, etc) are up to date.

Millennials are on a variety of engagement channels and expect you to be too. If you haven’t seen the Abila Donor Engagement Study, its good for understanding how different generations want to engage with nonprofits.

Young audiences also want a variety of ways to interact with nonprofits, whether its through events, donations or volunteering.

They Want to Be Involved

Millennials believe in the power of collective action. According to the Abila study, they are the only generation where volunteering gets a higher engagement score than giving. They feel more involved through participation so invite them to volunteer, attend events and fundraise for you. Research shows they like to network and use their skills to help create change. If you don’t already have giving societies, create one for young leaders.

Take a look at your events. Do you have some fun sprinkled in there? Our client, the Long Center, started Sound and Cinema, a movie on their lawn to engage millennial visitors. They partnered with a popular movie theater to help increase awareness and attendance. If you do a walk or run, what about it is different? Millennials want experiences that are unique and different. They have to get those likes, remember?

And around these events, make sure you’re putting peer to peer fundraising into place to encourage affinity and donations.


So here’s the big surprise lurking at the end of the post. Putting the above into place will help your nonprofit reach the donors of tomorrow. AND, putting them in place will help you reach EVERYONE! These aren’t just best practices for Millennials. They’re for all of us. By implementing these suggestions, you’re not just creating content for this audience, you’re creating content for the world today. Build for Millennials and you build for us all.

Now, go build.

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