August 6, 2015

5 Things You Need to Know About Millennials and Email

By now you may think you’ve heard everything you need to know about Millennials: their needs, their quirks, maybe even how they look at fundraising. Why spend some much time examining this particular generation?

The reason is simple: In every way, Millennials represent the future of your organization. We don’t study Millennials to compare them to older generations. Rather, we study this generation because they will soon make up the majority of your donor base. At that point, their ideas and quirks will no longer be preferences unique to one demographic. Their preferences and needs will become the norm.

Keep these three facts in mind (via The Millennial Impact Project):

  • Reading emails is the number one action taken by Millennials for a nonprofit via their smartphone
  • More than 65% of Millennials receive email or e-newsletters from 1-5 different nonprofit organizations
  • Millennials are more likely to give through email than any other common fundraising channel (e.g., direct mail, phone solicitation, etc.)

Since the inception of the Millennial Impact Project in 2009, we have been looking at how Millennials react to fundraising approaches, campaigns, and calls-to-action. We have even analyzed fundraising messaging to try and understand the reasons why someone in his or her 20s and 30s would support a specific cause.

Email as a response channel is still the highest mechanism for online giving. Many continue to argue for and predict the demise of email as a fundraising tool. While you may personally lack interest in receiving emails, we continue to see the opposite. Millennials, like other potential donors, prefer emails and respond to them at much higher rates than other communications. Based on what we have seen in our research, email continues to generate the highest reaction and raise the most money.

Here are five things you need to know about reaching Millennial donors through email:

1. Use sequential emails to build a larger narrative

We have seen a lot of success in organizations that use a series of emails, each sharing a brief part of the bigger picture, to tell a larger narrative. Choose your story or issue and use each email to highlight an aspect of the bigger picture. The final email in the series is when you ask for a donation. This strategy works particularly well in engaging donors through peer fundraising campaigns.

2. Tailor learning experiences and take your donors on a custom journey

The ideal Millennial donor experience involves a journey through learning, acting and giving. Starting with learning, once you have piqued their interest and they are first experiencing your organization, allow them to select which aspects of your cause they are most interested in. Set up an email learning series based on the subject(s) they select. Next, ask them to take small actions, like sharing information on social media or forwarding an email. Follow up with larger actions, like attending an event or volunteering. Finally, now that they know about your cause and have invested their time and network, ask them to financially invest in the cause. To bring the individual into the act of fundraising, a series of emails that ask the individual to act on behalf of the cause before an email about giving can see higher response rates.

3. Compelling email content inspires action

In our studies and observations, we’ve found that Millennials are drawn into solicitations and calls to action when the organization is able to entice them to read more. This means personalization (using the recipient’s first name), pre-header text and a one-line reason why the narrative of the story applies to the reader draws inspires them to read more.

4. Just because they didn’t react, doesn’t mean they don’t care

This is an interesting point most fundraisers and marketers get wrong. When an individual receives a solicitation, reads it, and doesn’t react, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. It takes ongoing communication and involvement in the story to get a reaction and one-time reacts are likely to get the average rates we see.

5. Email copy is really bad

When looking at email copy overall, it has been fairly challenging to get through or even get the emotion and excitement necessary to bring me from an enthusiast to a supporter. Email copy is quick, powerful, and focused on the reader as a hero in the giving scenario. It means that the copy needs to maintain a construction of learning statement followed by importance to the reader, and ultimately why that application should happen now to help the individual.

In June 2015, my team and I released the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which examines how Millennials view cause engagement, specifically in the workplace. Our initial data, as well as our soon-to-be released interview results, confirm what we’ve found in all of our studies: Millennials are the giving generation. The question is how you and your organization can engage this group of do-gooders to take meaningful action in support of your cause.

Email can be a powerful system for raising money if used properly and if it brings the individual through a process of learning, acting, and giving. Remember that email only works if you apply it to the individual rather than to a goal of an organization. Email is a method to convey part of a story, not the whole story each time. Make the individual want to open and read through because you provided a line that sparks the emotion of the giving act.

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Derrick Feldmann
Derrick Feldmann is a sought-after speaker, researcher, and advisor for cause engagement. Derrick is the President of Achieve, a creative research agency, and lead researcher and creator of the Millennial Impact Project, an oft-cited, multi-year study of how the next generation supports causes. He is the author of "Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement" and forthcoming book "Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change." Follow him @derrickfeldmann.