12 Key Findings about Engaging Millennials

Whether you call them Millennials, Gen Y, Generation Next or Echo Boomers, today’s high schoolers, college students, and young professionals are proving to be the most important generation for causes. Many nonprofits have evaluated this group on the thinness of their wallet and written them off. What causes are missing is that this is the most passionate, most connected group of fundraisers yet. They may only have a few bucks in their pocket, but they actually care about causes, want to work hard for them, and are electronically connected to huge networks of donors and participants.

For a nonprofit, the real question is not “Should we engage them?”, it’s “How do we engage them?”

Our recent DonorDrive webinar with the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council featured Zac Johnson of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals who has made a career out of interacting with Millennial fundraisers. Zac is the guiding force for CMN’s insane Dance Marathons that are held on more that 150 campuses across the country and raise more than $10 million annually. From the webinar, we’ve distilled 12 key findings about engaging Millennials.

The points are eye opening and shatter many misconceptions about how to engage this generation.

  • Millennials motivate money. “Millennials are not necessarily donors, they’re fundraisers. The Dance Marathon at Indiana University raised 1.8 million dollars. Are the students themselves contributing 1.8 million dollars? No. But it’s their ability to mobilize the community to give that much. I think they have even more potential to be fundraisers for your organization than Generation X or Boomers.”
  • The reason why they join in isn’t important. “Before they participate, they may only be aware of the causes Kim Kardashian’s tweeting about, the hot button issue of the moment. However you get them into that event, it’s like a retreat. By the end they’ve all come around and experienced something on a new level.”
  • Experiential fundraising can fill the need for immediacy. “It takes this generation outside the norm, out of their daily routine. Millennials need immediacy, but they also need depth. This generation more than any other needs to feel impact. They’ll be the biggest generation yet in embracing causes.”
  • Let them own your event. “Many charities fail in engaging Millennials by not giving them enough ownership. Your inclination is to step in and guide them so they can feel like a success. But what we’ve found is that student ownership is what takes it to that next level for them.”
  • Let ‘em fail. It’ll be good for you. “One of the more successful approaches we’ve had at Dance Marathon is to avoid micromanaging. They’ll go “Hey, here’s what we’re thinking.” I’ll give my two cents if it’s going in the wrong direction. But if it’s something they’re passionate about I’ll let them go. Failure is good because they felt like they were allowed to fail on their own. That’s very important for this generation. They’re not afraid of failure.”
  • Mentor, but do it on tiptoe. “Coaching is very important for Millennials. When we talk about ownership, we don’t take a complete sideline approach. If there’s a student group that’s really off track, use the Socratic method: Ask them questions. Lead them to that outcome in their minds so that 20 minutes later they’ll come up with that idea themselves. They feel they have personal ownership of that.”
  • Just because you use a social medium, don’t assume they’re still into it. “When their parents start adopting it, posting statuses and creeping on their Facebook wall, that’s when the medium stops being cool. Millennials are starting to drive away from Facebook. Is Twitter going to last more than a few more years? Probably not. It’s going to take a lot of due diligence on our part to stay ahead of these trends.”
  • They’re multi-medium. “If they have a question for me maybe they’ll email me. If it’s something they need an answer to right away, they’ll text me. If it’s an absolute emergency, believe it or not they’ll post it on my Facebook wall or tweet me. That’s not how I communicate, but that’s how they do.”
  • Respond immediately, then wait. “Millennials will definitely view a lack of prompt response as a lack of caring. But I might have a follow-up question and they might not get back to me for three or four days. Successful charities engaging this generation can provide that immediacy.”
  • Don’t beat around the bush or sugar coat. “This group is very quickly adapting to communicate in 140 characters or less. They want to get right down to the emotional core. They don’t need fluff, so being direct and concise with information is really important.”
  • It’s hip to be square. “The biggest pitfall is to try to talk to them like you’re one of them. If you try to be, it comes off as forced. Genuineness is very important to this generation. They really need to feel like the causes they support are real.”
  • Use the fun factor to keep them around. “A big difficulty with this generation is retaining them. They’ll be super passionate about something one day and then they’re onto the next music group or the next charity. The fun factor is key. They need to see some personal reward mixed in with the emotional reward.”

Download the full Engaging Millennials PDF

Kevin Wolfe is Social Instigator for DonorDrive and editor of DonorDriven .

This article was originally published at http://blog.donordrive.com/2012/03/12-key-findings-about-millennial-fundraisers/ and is reprinted with permission.

Kevin Wolfe
Social Instigator
Kevin Wolfe is Social Instigator for DonorDrive and editor of DonorDriven.