Untapped Potential: Inspiring Millennial Giving

When you talk with non-profit leaders about fundraising for any length of time, there’s a single universal topic that consistently comes up. That same topic impacts non-profits from coast to coast and across all sectors and is causing leaders to rethink both strategies and tactics on an unprecedented scale.


What is this burning question that has caused so much angst?


It’s “How do we reach millennials?”


This group of folks born between about 1982 and 2000 has been giving non-profits migraines because it’s untapped potential is so vast. Millennials make up a more than 25% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and account for a staggering estimated $200 billion in annual buying power, according to Forbes.


What’s more, folks in this generation give – and give generously – to causes that resonate with them. According to Mobile Cause, an astonishing 84% of millennials give to charity, making them second only to the greatest generation (which came in with 88% of members giving to a charity each year).


What’s different about millennials?

Yet millennials don’t give in the manner their parents and grandparents used to.


Mainline religious institutions have been the first to see – and feel – this shift in giving. Where older generations consistently put their envelopes in the collection plate week after week and pledged year after year, millennials seem reluctant to make that type of broad, long-range commitment. 


When you look across generational surveys, you’ll see trends emerge that help to explain this shift. The millennial generation has an inherent distrust of institutions – whether they are governmental, religious, or charitable. Having grown up in an era where scandals are common and the media emphasis on them is omnipresent, this cynicism is hardly surprising.


This distrust means that millennials spend far more time researching charities than older givers. They check charity ratings, peruse online reviews and pour over social media accounts to ensure that a charity is actually delivering on its promises – and doing so responsibly.


Anecdotally, when you speak with individual millennials about the concept of pledging or giving weekly, many will say that they haven’t been taught the basics of budgeting. (Where older generations learned skills like balancing a checkbook in school and today’s children are learning accounting at a younger age, basic financial education – like budgeting - seems to have skipped many members of this generation.) This lack of financial knowledge has impacted regular giving. 


The way they give is different, too.


Where older generations would respond to a direct mail piece by sending in a check, millennials want the immediate gratification and simplicity of clicking a link or sending a text. If you make them fill out complex donor cards, they’ll quickly interest – and you’ll lose them.


So how do YOU reach them?


While non-profit leaders might have a good understanding of what makes millennials different, they seem to struggle with formulating a response that actually reaches them.


This is further complicated by the reality that fundraising tactics have to be generationally segmented to be successful. For example, if a charity completely eliminates direct mail giving requests in favor of electronic options, they run the danger of losing what are most likely some of their most generous givers – the greatest generation – in order to appeal to the millennials whom they hope will be their greatest givers in the future.


At TripleOne Consulting, we believe that to successfully reach this untapped market for the future without jeopardizing their present, non-profits have to take a step back from tactics to first address their larger strategies.


To reach millennials, you first have to inspire them.


Initially, you have to inspire their trust.


Then, you have to inspire their conscience.  


Finally, you have to inspire their emotions.


Think about it in terms of any other interpersonal relationship – which is how millennials relate to brands in general. You first have to establish trust in your integrity; then get them to believe in both the genuine need for your cause and the fact that you the organization that can best address that need; and ultimately, you must motivate them to take action to help you.


What does inspiring millennials look like?


Establishing trust with millennials takes a very different form than it has for prior generations. Given their inherent distrust of institutions, charities have to break through that corporate image and appeal to potential givers by being real. Authenticity is what speaks to millennials – and that is something that you simply can’t fake. 


Authenticity means being transparent with your finances and with reputable charity ranking systems where millennials are likely to research you. Authenticity means having genuine dialog on and replying to social media comments with real thought instead of canned answers. It means encouraging current donors to post reviews where millennials are likely to read them.


Once you have their trust, you have to inspire their conscience. Social justice is a hot-button issue for millennials – and one that almost every non-profit touches in one way, shape or form. Whether that’s taking care of the homeless, teaching at-risk children to read, rescuing the planet, or saving souls – you have a unique and wonderful story to tell.


The key to reaching millennials is to tell it.


Tell it consistently and intelligently across all of your communication platforms – what we at TripleOne Consulting refer to as Blended Communications. Use real life examples of what you do so well, and why your organization is the best entity to fulfill this need.


Once you establish a real, genuine connection with millennials, you’ll engage them on the emotional level that motivates them to act.


Once you inspire them to take action to give, you come full circle back to trust. You must make giving simple for millennials. Since they are accustomed to instant technological gratification in virtually every area of their lives, they expect their giving to meet these expectations as well. If they can’t click a link or set up text to give with a few simple touches, they will move on to something – or someone else – who is easier to give to.


Of course, as you are appealing to millennials, non-profit leaders need to carry their messaging across the platforms and through tactics that appeal to other generations as well. They can’t neglect the direct mail pieces that work for the greatest generation, the phone appeals that inspire a direct connection with boomers, or the emails that hit Gen Xers where they are most likely to see it.


Navigating these diverse waters takes a unique combination of skills. When you are ready to take the next step and bring this level of inspired thinking to your organization, contact us at TripleOne Consulting. Let us help you inspire generosity!