Millennials, as they pertain to nonprofit organizations today, may carry the “next generation donor” label. But in just five years, millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce and create a defining culture of givers, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report.
This leaves a small window for organizations to learn the giving trends that define millennials and how to best engage them.
The Millennial Impact Report, an annual report from the Case Foundation, The Chronicle of Philanthopy and Indianapolis-based Achieve that chronicles how the young generation gets involved with issues that matter to them, leaves little question that millennials want to do good.
The 2014 report found that 97 percent of millennials prefer to use their skills to help a cause. When job hunting, millennials ranked a company’s involvement with causes as their third most important attribute.
In 2013, 87 percent of millennial employees donated to a nonprofit organization. However, only 12 percent of millennials gave more than $1,000, underscoring that their worth to organizations is not solely monetary.
Michael Moody, the Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center, said millennials have the potential to be the most significant philanthropists in history. Millennials belonging to philanthropic families either have decision-making power over an unprecedented level of wealth or will in the coming years.
Assets aside, millennials are also embracing and shaping many innovations in the world of philanthropy that could change the face of giving.
“Those are things like creating a socially responsible business that is sort of a hybrid between a nonprofit and for-profit business. Or, instead of giving grants, they might give low-interest loans or practice collaborative giving,” Moody said.
All in all, millennials are giving in a markedly different fashion than their predecessors.
“Millennials don’t just want the annual fundraising event — they want to be engaged more deeply,” Moody said. “They don’t want to have their time wasted by engaging them in a way that doesn’t have a meaningful impact on the organization.”
SEEKING A DEEP ENGAGEMENT WITH ORGANIZATIONS
A key takeaway from the 2014 Millennial Impact Report was that most millennials are driven by causes and not necessarily the organization. They want to engage with these organizations and perform meaningful work that produces tangible results.
This is a far cry from what Moody called the “spray and pray” method, where donors would make donations to numerous organizations with little personal engagement involved. Spray and pray appears to be a trend that will phase out with millennials, but not necessarily to the detriment of nonprofit organizations.
“The spray and pray approach is not the best for (nonprofits) because they tend to be small, more infrequent checks that cover a smaller amount of time,” Moody said. “Those can be good — you get your annual thousand-dollar check from a foundation. It’s great to count on that, but that’s not going to be as good as someone giving you $10,000, not just for one year, but for three years.
“I think nonprofits would like the bigger check. The downside is that $10,000 comes with a lot more requirement and deep engagement with the donor. It will take more time to engage and in meaningful ways.”
Often, the personal engagement comes well before a monetary donation is made, making millennial donors a part of the long game for nonprofit organizations. The Millennial Impact Report revealed that most millennials place an equal value on all their assets — including time and energy. That’s not to say that they are against donating their money.
“I can’t say it’s true across the board, but once someone gets involved with an organization on a volunteer level, they get an inside peek of what the organization does and what the needs are. Once those needs are identified, the checkbook tends to follow,” said Shaun Shira, development officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
Added Moody: “Millennials are not going to be your biggest donors for many years. If you’re a fundraiser or an executive director of a nonprofit organization, your primary checks are not going to be written by millennials for many years to come unless you’re in Silicon Valley and have hundreds of millennial millionaires around the corner.”
A trend that has remained evident in all four years of the Millennial Impact Report is that millennials are heavily influenced by the decisions and behaviors of their peers. The notion was again reflected in the most recent report, which stated that 78 percent of millennials prefer to perform cause work in groups rather than independently.
This means that millennials and millennial donors are putting far less stock in the messages and marketing tactics of each organization and relying more on the firsthand accounts of their peers.
“Certainly, millennials are going to pay a lot of attention to what their peers are saying about an organization,” Moody said. “They’re also very savvy about when a message is contrived and when they’re being manipulated. It’s got to be authentic — a peer describing a genuine interaction and commitment.
“They’ve grown up in a world where they know how to tell a genuine communication from a non-genuine communication on the web. They can tell when an organization is feeding them all the things they need to hear and when someone is taking their own initiative. They want the more authentic information.”
For this reason, creating strong peer networks is almost essential for nonprofit organizations that hope to capture these next-gen donors.
It then becomes crucial for existing volunteers and donors to tap into their networks to try to engage like-minded individuals and expose them to the organization.
“If I have 50 friends that may be interested in the work that this organization is doing, I’m going to try to bring them along to an event that I care about,” Shira said. “Or, I might go to a fundraiser for that organization and invite a handful of my friends to learn about the organization.”
Shira said he is also starting to see smaller dinner parties where an individual might invite four or five couples to dinner and have a staff member educate them about the organization.
“It’s that very personal one-on-one interaction,” he said. “This community is well known for having huge fundraising galas, but it’s becoming where more people really value that close, personal interaction.”