Nonprofits and Millennials — Connecting with America’s Largest Population Group

The millennial generation is having a dramatic impact on politics, business and society as a whole. This generation is also dramatically changing how nonprofit organizations connect with the public and raise money.

Millennials are America's largest population group, making them a rich target for nonprofit leaders.The Pew Research Center defines “millennials” as young people born, roughly, between 1980 and 2000 and who started to come of age right around the Second Millennium. One analysis of Census Bureau data pegged the millennial cohort at approximately 99 million as of 2014, dwarfing both generation X (88 million) and the baby boomers (65 million).

Those numbers have been shaped by immigration to the U.S., which has caused an uptick in the number of millennials and gen-Xers, and the aging of the long-dominant boomers, who are coming closer to the end of their natural life spans.

This generation defines itself loosely: Just 40 percent of people between 18 and 34 call themselves “millennials.” That contrasts strongly with the 79 percent of people between 51 and 69 who identify with the “boomer” label, according to Pew. Though they can’t agree on what to call themselves, they share certain traits that nonprofits must understand to effectively reach them.

Consider these tips as you reach out to the millennial generation:

Communicate the way they do

Millennials grew up with personal computers and mobile phones. Hence, they’ve often been dubbed the “connected” generation. Many carry mobile devices at all times and constantly communicate through social media, texting and email. Mobile devices are even their preferred timepiece, with the venerable wristwatch now an optional fashion accessory.

One thing millennials tend to ignore is a ringing telephone, with good reason. They came of age in an era of telemarketing and robo-calls. This requires nonprofits to use methods other than calling campaigns to reach millennials. Ditto direct mail: Millennials don’t use the postal service to pay bills and are likely to discard your glossy direct-mail appeals.

This requires your organization to ramp up your email marketing campaigns, at a bare minimum, and more aggressively court millennials via social media. Venture beyond such mainstays as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, especially when reaching out to the youngest millennials. Instead, explore the workings of such increasingly popular social media as Snapchat, Tumblr and Instagram, for that’s where you’ll connect with an especially youthful audience.

Don’t just “send.” Make your social media presence interactive by inviting feedback from the people you reach and, perhaps most importantly, asking for donations online.

Make giving tangible

Millennials are more apt than their elders are to dismiss non-specific appeals, such as an annual fundraising campaign or the old-fashioned “community chest.” Instead, they like to see their monetary donations tied to results. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this.

Just to pick one example, Connecticut’s Bridgeport Rescue Mission tells donors just how many meals a $10, $50 or $100 donation will provide to the homeless and needy people it serves. Another possibility is to emulate organizations that give donors the option of choosing which services they want to support.

This is, in fact, part of a larger trend among charitable organizations of all kinds. For instance, some local United Way groups let donors target their donations to particular charities and causes, even funds they donate through payroll deduction at work. This gives the donor a much greater sense of making a tangible difference in their communities.

Target different groups differently

There are usually vast differences among different age groups within every generation. The oldest baby boomers, born in the late 1940s, tend to have very little in common with their generational counterparts who arrived in the early 1960s.

The millennial generation is also quite diverse. The oldest millennials have largely become careerists and as a result tend to have different viewpoints than those born later in the 20th century. Despite a shared affinity for all things electronic, they’re also more apt to favor established social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) over the newer sites popular among younger millennials. Savvy nonprofit marketers will know how to use a variety of platforms and craft messages that reach both audiences.

With sparser financial resources, younger millennials are less likely to contribute large sums to a nonprofit fundraising campaign. But don’t rule them out, either. Besides welcoming their smaller donations, you should create plenty of enriching, and fun, volunteer opportunities for younger millennials. Their loyalty to your organization will ensure they make bigger donations when they earn more money later in adulthood.

Put millennials in charge

Millennials have been described as the most cause-oriented generation to come of age since the Vietnam protests of the 1960s. They want to make a difference and directly cause change to come about, and one way to do that is to carve out a meaningful place for them in your organization.

Some organizations have built “Young Professionals Networks.” Such groups support an organization’s ongoing charitable endeavors and often launch projects of their own. In particular, they build ties with community-partnership programs at employers.

Such groups help to instill a sense of affinity among millennials for a particular cause or organization. That’s a strategy that can offer your organization handsome rewards for years and even decades to come.

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