If you’re not paying attention to the influence and power of Millennials (people born in 1980 and later), you’re not paying attention to the future of your nonprofit and your cause(s). The 2013 Millennial Impact Report details how Millennials give, connect, and involve themselves with causes — and contains specific tips about how to engage young people.
I recently caught up with Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve and the head of research for the Millennial Engagement Survey, and asked him about what his research means for old people like me.
Q: Many organizations like mine have an established donor base of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. If non-Millennials make up the majority of current donors, how do you recommend that nonprofits balance the needs of Millennials with the more traditional needs of older donors?
A: I think the needs of older donors and Millennials are merging. For instance, the movement for more transparency in fundraising is not specific to Millennials but becoming a trend across all generations. Millennials are helping our causes understand how to better communicate the direct impact of gifts, how to report information on the cause issue, and how to create better relationships. This is how philanthropy is changing and in time, other generations will not only ask for these type of relationships but demand them.
Q: How can nonprofit professionals make a case for engaging Millennials, when their bosses see that most fundraising dollars are coming from other age groups?
A: I always say that if your organization is strapped for cash, you have other things to worry about — i.e., your business model and how to generate dollars for programs. For those not in that position, the case is simple and it stretches beyond giving. Millennials are the best marketers for the organization. In terms of outreach, a Millennial, within their own words, can spread an idea better and faster than any other demographic. Use this talent and skill to share the most relevant information about the cause. In addition, Millennials spend discretionary dollars on things that matter to them. Take this opportunity to engage a first time donors in micro ways in order to generate brand ambassadors for the organization.
Q: As you talk to people about your research, what are the biggest misperceptions about Millennials?
A: Millennials don’t give. It is not true. They give in micro ways — time and dollars — and it tends to be impulsive at times but giving is occurring. Another common misperceptions is around the workplace. Millennials demonstrate work life blending and at times this can be confused as work life imbalance or even disengagement. Millennials merge their professional and social lives and for some that is a challenge when their generation was focused on work life balance.
Q: Are Millennials unique in their attitudes and behaviors, or do they simply reflect the changing world around them? In terms of their social activism, how do they differ from other generations?
A: It goes back to the blending concept we have been talking about. Millennials are blending their interests in social activism in everything that they do — especially in consumer spending. Millennials seek to understand how products are produced and how they have an impact on the world. This is a unique characteristic we see in Millennials.
Q: Your research shows that a pet peeve of Millennials is getting too much email. How does a nonprofit know how much is too much?
A: We have watched international development and environmental causes send emails once a week and their Millennial followings enjoy the content and continue to subscribe. Why? Because the content is brand new each time. It is relevant, contains images, personal, and draws you in as a reader. The complaints about too much email comes from Millennials who receive the same content every other week from an organization. Frequency should be based on your organization’s ability to produce content about your cause — not your organization. Information about what is happening related to the work – not about your organization doing the work. In the examples I gave, the organizations that send information every week have something to report on the issue and Millennials enjoy reading the content.
Q: The Millennial Impact Report has lots of specific recommendations for nonprofits that want to connect with Millennials, in terms of calls to action, websites, social media, and volunteer opportunities. But nonprofit professionals have so many competing priorities. If they want to improve their engagement with Millennials, where should they start?
A: First, ensure you are not turning Millennials away. Organizations should examine the way they present themselves to external audiences. How they use human voice and show the people they help. Redevelop communications that speak to the manner in which Millennials like to receive such messages. Second, create micro volunteer opportunities. Develop small bursts of volunteer engagement for Millennials to perform anywhere. Third, talk with Millennials in social media. Seek out those that care about the issue and talk with them. Do not post — talk and describe something new every day that they may not know about.
Q. I know you’re optimistic about how Millennials will help shape philanthropy and social activism. What are some specific ways this generation will change social activism and the way nonprofits operate?
A: I addressed that question in a recent piece I wrote for the Case Foundation blog, “The Future of Your Nonprofit Organization and Why You Need to Join This Conversation.” In it I said I care about Millennials getting involved in causes, but I care more about the state of the organizations that are trying to make a difference in our communities. I worry they are not prepared to engage Millennials who want to be involved and have not adapted to the growing business changes this generation and others are demanding, such as transparency, real-time reporting, digital connectedness, and collaborative leadership. Rather than perpetuate the ongoing development of more organizations, why not find better ways to get Millennials and organizations working together?
What it’s going to take is getting organizations interested in operating differently — more openly, creating more collaborative work and constituent environments, and refining how external audiences can communicate with, involve, and give so it is easier, faster, and more trustworthy.
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Derrick is also co-author (with Kari Dunn Saratovsky) of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement, which I highly recommend. For more information, download the 2013 Millennial Impact Report and follow Derrick and Kari on Twitter.