Try these ideas to engage Gen X and Millennials in your cause
As nonprofit leaders look at their budgets these days, it’s tempting to focus on the short term. All too often, they see that the core of their organization’s funding remains more or less the same group of people—some of whom are in danger of donor burnout. Sometimes panic mode sets in, and they push those same donors harder, or try to get a shot in the arm by approaching some of those donors’ (generally older) peers.
Leaders who take the long view look down the road, at the next generation or two of donors. Right now, Baby Boomers make up 34% of the donor base and 43% of dollars given—the biggest generation in both categories. But as Jessica notes in her excellent book, the oldest boomers are just hitting 70, and Gen X is coming into its prime financially, so that won’t remain the case forever.
More importantly, Generations X and Y represent a largely untapped resource for most nonprofits:
- Between them, they already represent 31% of annual giving despite their relatively young ages (and by extension income levels).
- 60% of each generation gives, for a total of 74 million annual donors (24 million more than the Boomers, 70% of whom give).
- Their average annual gifts are already remarkably high, at $732 for Gen X and $481 for Gen Y (the Boomer’s annual average gift is just over $1,200).
Numbers above and below from Blackbaud’s report on the next generation of American giving
If you’re doing the math in your head, these generations represent a mammoth source of potential revenue for nonprofits even now, let alone in the future. But if you’re a typical nonprofit leader, they represent only a tiny fraction of your donor base, and you don’t spend much time even trying to get them to give.
So how does one court a donor from these generations?
There are certain things that are increasingly becoming common knowledge; for example:
- These generations want to see how their donations are used. 60% of Gen Y and 50% of Gen X say seeing the results of their donations influenced their decision to give, compared to only 33% of Boomers (who in turn care about this more than their parents did). This means younger donors are the least likely to respond to a request for unrestricted donations.
- Solicitation media and styles need to change. A remarkable number of consultants still swear by direct mail, because if you invest heavily enough in it, it still gets decent results. But this is only true because of the Traditionalist generation (before the Boomers). Only 22% of Gen X donors and 10% of Gen Y donors have ever given in response to a mail solicitation. But what’s the alternative? I’ve seen nonprofits throw money at a Facebook campaign only to see it fail to pay off. Nonprofits have to utilize a next-gen (ha!) set of tools like online wealth databases, email marketing appeals, multi-layered social media outreach, local hub cities, and events to reach these generations—but there’s still more to doing this right than that (I’ll get there in a minute).
- Only 36% of Gen Y thinks giving money is the best way to help a charity. (Stop and process that one for a second.) Finding creative ways to rethink volunteerism, in-kind donations, and peer-to-peer fundraising (where a person’s social capital can go to work for you) will be huge for this generation. And other than a few huge nonprofits and marathon-type groups, hardly anyone is doing that right now.
- Social media is huge. Most people know this by now in theory, but I’ve still hardly seen any nonprofits that are doing it well. At best, they are measuring success by views and likes, getting a few donations, and still struggling to figure out where social media tools actually stand in the PR vs. marketing vs. fundraising spectrum.
But none of that by itself is enough. I’ve seen loads of organizations that know all these things, and even try to capitalize on that knowledge, without much success.
Information like what you see above makes it easy to start thinking about outreach to these generations in purely technological terms. Too many organizations are “getting on social media” or trying a crowdfunding campaign and thinking their job is done with generations X and Y. Here are a few things you should actually do if you want to tap into this incredible resource:
- Get to know these generations. Run psych profiles. Test your language to see how words, phrases, and concepts play with each generation. Read up a bit on what tends to motivate them (Jean Twenge’s book “Generation Me” remains the best and least simplistic book I’ve seen). Do surveys. Most importantly, get to know these people personally.
- Recruit their members as champions. I’ve seen this everywhere from multimillion-dollar Race for the Cure-type efforts to my little church—everyone, especially younger people, responds better when you ask them directly. Especially when you make it clear you can’t do it without them. Build value with young people and empower them to go to bat for you with their friends. Put a couple Gen Xers on your board—smart, successful people, not token appointments.
- Be patient, and plan to give more than you get. Building up younger generations effectively as a donor base is partly about providing value to their lives now, through relationship building, content creation and other value-adds (stuff that makes them think or inspires them), and letting them be a part of your wins. And it’s partly a long-term, complex, messy process that requires a great deal of time and skill investment that may have relatively little return in the short run. In my experience, the ball starts rolling very slowly.
That last one makes it tough for organizations to stick with it. But don’t give up—securing your organization’s future is worth it.
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