Attracting the Next Generation of Donors
“Life isn’t about the money you make, it’s what you do with your life to impact others.”
–from the “2014 Millennial Impact Report”
Attracting younger supporters is a big challenge for nonprofits. Most
fundraising strategies are geared to the older population (those born before
1945). While this group is generous—79% give to charity—year by year their
numbers are shrinking. So organizations need the next generation of donors to
replenish that pipeline of support. This includes millennials—those born between
1981 and 1993—and their older siblings, the 40-somethings.
How do you engage people who are early in their careers or still building them,
may be paying off student loans, saving for a home, or paying hefty child care
bills, and are not necessarily in the mindset of giving? The fact is younger
people do give to causes they care about; some 83% of people ages 20 to 35 made
a charitable contribution in 2012. While they may not give a lot, perhaps $100
or less, they have a desire to help others and collectively their numbers are
A combination of real and virtual connectivity can be effective in attracting
the next generation. Here are some strategies, as well as a look at what a few
nonprofits are doing to engage new, younger supporters.
Use social media to promote engagement. Young people learn about nonprofits
online and through social media, according to the “2013 Millennial Impact
Report,” part of a comprehensive survey about the rising generation’s attitudes
towards charity and giving. They gather information and connect in a variety of
ways: through websites and search engines, emails, text messages, Facebook,
Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other channels. Sixty five percent receive
emails and newsletters from nonprofits, and three-quarters retweet, like, and
share photos, videos, and other content. Many have also signed petitions or
pledges, donated money, and signed up to volunteer online.
“We share the challenge of finding younger supporters and employ a variety of
strategies, including social media, to attract them,” says Rich Uniacke,
director of marketing at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (cfbnj.org). This
community-based organization distributes food, provides education and training,
and develops programs to help the hungry throughout the state. A campaign
launched this month uses a graphic image—an empty paper plate with ‘1 in 5’
scrawled on it—to spread the word that one in five children in New Jersey is
hungry. Longtime FoodBank supporter and football legend Harry Carson appears in
a video on their website. Messaging encourages volunteers and supporters to take
photos of themselves or others holding the plate and share them on social media.
The campaign was a joint venture with graphic design students at Kean
University—the very age group organizations are trying to reach.
An organization’s online presence should be strong and mobile-friendly. The next
generation increasingly turns to mobile devices over tablets and computers for
browsing, networking, reading emails, donating, checking social media sites,
watching videos, and sharing photos. Some 80% of those participating in the
millennial survey want organizations to have mobile-friendly websites that offer
news or action-oriented headlines that link to more information or next steps.
While a website can accommodate large quantities of information, the message
needs to be streamlined for mobile devices. Buttons like ‘About’ or ‘Donate’
encourage users to take immediate action. The FoodBank’s website includes
prominent ‘Action’ and ‘Donate’ buttons. Charity Water (charitywater.org), an
organization promoting safe, clean water for communities globally, takes this
one step further with a ‘Start a Campaign’ button that walks a potential
supporter through easy steps for setting up peer-to-peer fundraising.
The millennial survey points out that young people’s motivation for charitable
involvement includes passion for the cause, meeting people, and gaining
expertise. So organizations should prominently feature information about what
they are doing with donors’ dollars and offer many avenues for participation.
Demonstrate how donated funds equal numbers of people helped. The next
generation is not interested in the structure of an organization; they want to
see where their money makes a difference. They are concerned about social issues
and will be more attracted to fundraising initiatives organized around specific
projects that identify how donations will help others. Sixty percent of
millennial study respondents like it when nonprofits share stories about
successful projects or the people they help. “Educate me about your organization
and challenge me to think and reinforce my caring,” said one respondent.
Charity Water is particularly effective in collecting and featuring stories and
photos of those they have helped, inspiring young people to be passionate about
this cause. Other organizations use blogs to share success stories. The
organization Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance (thejdca.org), a group advocating
for type 1 diabetes research, blogs regularly about projects with the potential
to deliver a Practical Cure by the year 2025. The blog is part of the
organization’s effort to see a greater percentage of private contributions
allocated to Practical Cure research, by engaging the type 1 community of donors
to the largest charities funding diabetes research. A third organization, Spark
(sparksf.org), engages young people in supporting global women’s issues. A
campaign launched to supply foot-powered water pumps in Madagascar caught on in
a big way. The message said a $60 donation would buy a pump that could supply
enough water for two farms. Donors could visualize exactly where their dollars
were going, and $4,500 was immediately raised for 75 pumps.
While social media and the web are essential stages for your message, they’re
not the only way to reach younger donors. Many nonprofit leaders, including the
FoodBank’s Uniacke, believe there’s no substitute for interpersonal engagement:
whether it’s sponsoring an event with real appeal or getting volunteers through
your doors to see what you’re all about.
Offer many ways of getting involved, and emphasize social and networking
benefits. Members of the next generation are inveterate networkers. They welcome
opportunities, including volunteering, that will help them meet others their age
with similar outlook and interests. In the millennial survey 2014, 77% of
respondents preferred to perform cause work with groups of fellow employees as
opposed to doing independent service projects. By the year 2020, millennials
will make up approximately 50% of the workplace. So what better place to
cultivate new donors than in the corporate world?
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (teamintraining.org)
offers people the opportunity to help raise money towards cures for blood
cancers. Many participants volunteer through the workplace. They pledge to raise
money for the charity and in return receive training for marathons, half
marathons, and other intense fitness events that typically attract young people.
“Our athletes walk away with new friends…and the sense that they did something
even more important than getting in good shape,” says the website. Since 1988,
approximately 600,000 participants have helped raise more than $1.4 billion for
The FoodBank’s strong corporate volunteer program taps into companies who want
to encourage giving back and regard volunteering as team-building. “Our
corporate volunteers come in groups,” says Uniacke. “They tend to be younger
employees and even summer interns. For many, it’s their first volunteering
experience. Once they are here they are connected to us.” Volunteers come to the
FoodBank’s spotlessly clean warehouse in Hillside, NJ, where they get a
first-hand look at the scope of services. They may sort food for distribution,
pack new clothes for children, and stock school supplies in a resource center
for teachers. The passion that goes into helping those in need is contagious.
The FoodBank also depends on the power of events to attract new supporters,
tailoring some food-themed events specifically for younger people. “It’s a
natural fit, promoting food security—the availability of food to everyone—to
‘foodies,’” says Uniacke. In 2014 the FoodBank brought together top New Jersey
chefs for special dinners. Other events held in trendy bars feature craft beers,
popular among young people.
“We call these events friend raisers, not fundraisers,” adds Uniacke. “We’re
building relationships, and in the end that’s what it’s all about.”