Millennials looking for more engagement opportunities, alignment with personal values

by Nicholas King for Nonprofit Business Advisor

Meg Fowler Tripp, director of editorial strategy, discusses millennials and the “donor 3.0” generation.

As Gen Y hits its stride professionally and financially, it is more important than ever for nonprofits to attract these young adults to their cause and convert them into reliable donors. But doing so will require a solid understanding of what drives them to support one group over another—knowing what they look for in a charity, offering the right kinds of engagement opportunities and speaking the same language as millennials, according to Meg Fowler Tripp, director of editorial strategy at Sametz Blackstone.

Fowler and others at her firm collectively refer to this generation as Donor 3.0. When it comes to charities, these donors want to support an organization that:

Aligns with their own personal brand and values.

“Millennials craft their image and personal brand according to their values and how they want to be seen,” Tripp told Nonprofit Business Advisor. Everything that makes its way into their digital footprint—i.e., their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social media accounts—is curated to reflect those values and how they see the world and their place in it, she said. Nonprofits looking for their support need to align with those values as well.

Engages them more deeply than just writing a check.

With prior generations, people would often just write a check, send it off and that was the end of their engagement with the charity, Tripp said. Millennials want much more than that.

“Organizations today have people willing to volunteer, raise awareness in various ways and donate—and they want to see where the money is going. They want to see the back end of things,” Tripp said.

Takes an innovative approach to solving a problem or issue.

Having come up in a time of tremendous technological advances, millennials expect tech to be leveraged for good by the nonprofits they support, Tripp said. But they also want innovation in thinking—new approaches to old problems that haven’t been adequately addressed by the “traditional” ways of doing things.
At her firm, Tripp and colleagues have identified several important trends that relate directly to millennial donors, including the following:

The belief that driving awareness is as valid a form of support as financial giving.

According to Tripp, millennials believe that leveraging one’s social network to spread the word about a particular group or cause is just as valuable as donating money. The act of sharing links or “liking” videos or pages on YouTube or Facebook; taking part in viral charity “challenges”; or adopting special themed avatars, such as the rainbow filter to express support for marriage equality, all help drive traffic to charity websites and get more individuals interested in the topic and organization—and millennials are aware of the value this brings to the organization. The trick, Tripp said, is to effectively convert this increased awareness into cash donations and volunteer support.

“Many organizations with big awareness programs start with small, incremental giving,” Tripp said. “After the person has been involved in some of these other ways, and a relationship has been established, you can slowly start soliciting, asking for just small amounts at first. You want to gently get them used to the idea of giving, making it as easy and painless as possible.”

Support for charity start-ups launched in response to what’s seen as the failure of established charities to make headway in their missions or to properly steward the donations they receive.

Tripp said a key driver behind this trend is the glut of easily accessible information that donors now have at their disposal when evaluating charities. As regulations spur nonprofits to post the details of their finances—including salaries for their executive leadership, which can often appear quite generous—millennials question whether such traditional, established organizations are nimble and “hungry” enough to make the best use of available resources.

“Millennials have a big B.S. filter,” Tripp said. “They want communications that are straightforward, authentic and hopeful that change is possible.

“There’s a lot of frustration with the status quo,” Tripp said. “Millennials want to find ways to solve these big societal problems in effective and efficient ways.” Start-ups often offer new approaches to an issue, and are typically led by young, entrepreneurial-minded individuals who are willing to try unorthodox strategies that would never get the go-ahead in the largest, more established organizations.

An interest in charities and charity start-ups that are actively using technology to solve problems.

This should come as no surprise, considering the outsized role that tech has played in millennials’ upbringing. They favor organizations that find innovative ways to leverage new technology to address social ills, whether that’s developing smartphone apps that help rural craftsmen buy and sell goods in a global marketplace, or creating new ways to educate students through “virtual classrooms” staffed with teachers located half a world away.

But even less flashy ways to improve operations through technology earn praise and support, Tripp said.

“Nearly all nonprofits could improve upon their systems in one way or another,” Tripp said, whether it’s accounting or human resources or facilities management. “The biggest way may be using technology to make advances in ways to give to charity—making it easy for people to give on a moment’s notice when the impulse hits.”

A keen interest in charities that speak to millennials in language and imagery that they find compelling.

For prior generations, Tripp said, imagery that aimed straight for the heart—think, for example, of an emaciated child shown in a commercial for a hunger relief organization—was effective at spurring donors to action. With millennials, that won’t fly, Tripp said.

“Millennials have a big B.S. filter,” Tripp said. “They want communications that are straightforward, authentic and hopeful that change is possible. Don’t try to pull on their heartstrings. They don’t want you to make them cry … they want you to inspire them.”