Philanthropreneurship Forum Alert

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Each year, Millennials in the US account for more than $300 billion in discretionary spending, an amount that’s the envy of consumer marketers and nonprofit fundraisers everywhere.

More than $17 billion comes into nonprofit and social sectors in the US each year, creating immense opportunities within these sectors. The problem is, most organizations struggle to obtain and use these assets for their missions.

And when these organizations find themselves struggling, they often put the blame on the Millennial generation (born 1980-2000).

In the nonprofit world, older generations frequently complain about how generations after theirs aren’t as active or engaged in causes as they are or were. And the media tend to perpetuate this generation gap story.

Since growing in attention and population, Millennials have been labeled by the media and nonprofit professionals as a generation of slacktivists (slacker + activists): great for sharing information about a cause on Twitter or helping YouTube videos go viral, but other than that, useless to fundraising and development.

I reject this label.

Millennials care about causes, even if their preferences differ from those of older generations. In fact, our research over the past six years on Millennials and cause engagement confirms that this generation has an affinity for “doing good.” However, change is scary. We are often unsure or skeptical when someone wants to be involved differently than we do. But if you want to engage this generation of do-gooders, you must learn what motivates them to help, act and give.

Recognize all assets to the Millennial are equal

Millennials treat all assets as equal – meaning that to the majority of Millennials, assets such as time, money, skills, etc., are of equal importance when giving to a cause. They view both their network and their voice as two types of assets they can offer a cause that are just as important as donating funds or volunteering. Aided by technology, an individual who donates his or her voice may still give skills, time and money, and then go beyond these actions to advocate for the cause. And donating one’s network – capitalizing on professional and personal relationships to expose others to a cause – just rated as just as important to this generation as are other methods of involvement.

Create a system of cause engagement: actions to premium actions to catalytic actions.

To capture this generation, you have to begin by introducing them to a cause, such as by acquiring email addresses or hosting an event. Your introduction should be leading them to the second step, which is to share your cause with their friends and family. This step has been revolutionized by social media. Because we know Millennials view their assets as equal, sharing your cause on their social media channels will help spread your message and build commitment with the individual who is doing the sharing.

Next, give them an opportunity to serve. Millennials are a social group, and the large majority prefers to serve or volunteer with groups. They also like to blend their personal and professional interests, so leveraging a service opportunity with the availability to network and meet new people will increase participation in your cause.

Only after a Millennial has taken on a service role for your cause will they be ready to personally support. Ask for a small donation first, such as $5 to $25. Once they’re personally invested through financial support, then you should be able to give Millennials the resources and motivation they need to ask others for money on your behalf. This last step – peer-to-peer fundraising – is why organizations like Generosity Water have so much success with Millennials and peer fundraising. Show this generation the impact their participation is having on those who benefit from your cause, and you’ll have a passionate force that is invested in your cause and takes it on themselves to drive it forward.

Embrace a faster feedback mechanism.

In their communications with Millennials, Generosity Water, a global humanitarian organization dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries, starts with a video that shows the need they serve and what an individual can do to alleviate this need. They ask individuals who are interested in the cause to help raise money for it. To do so, they offer a specific goal, asking participants to gather 16 friends and each pledge to give $33.33 a month for only three months. At the end of the three months, the individual has raised $5,000 – enough for a fully funded water project.

What sets this campaign apart is the constant feedback Generosity Water gives supporters throughout the three months – and, most importantly, the proof of impact at the end of the individual’s fundraiser. For example: As a supporter, once you’ve helped fully fund a well, you receive project and community information, GPS coordinates of the well, photos of the well and community as well as a personalized plaque.

Millennials care about causes, but nonprofit professionals must leave behind the mindset that involvement in causes is only important if it follows their own personal preferences or the habits of previous generations. Millennial cause enthusiasts want to give all of themselves to a cause – not just their money. They want to be taken through a process of getting to know the cause and to increase their roles as they become more invested, and they want to know in real-time the impact their participation has on alleviating the need they’re serving. To truly capture this crucial, growing generation, it’s up to nonprofits today to work a little harder and tailor their cause involvement programs to meet Millennials where they are.