“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 powerful.

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. 65% 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. 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.

We’ll continue this dialogue in our next post.