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Top 5 tips: Attracting millennial donors to your mission

By Ben Gerig, communication director

Millennial donors—adults between the ages of 20-35—aren’t as enigmatic as many development directors think. In fact, several studies indicate that we are a magnanimous lot—happy to be respectfully courted by nonprofits with a clear mission. Research shows an upward trajectory in millenials’ giving habits, making this the right time for nonprofits to engage this generation more effectively; following are five tips to help your organization do just that.

1. Invite a millennial to join your board, already!

Select a promising millennial who has the right attributes and has already contributed time, money and/or ideas to your nonprofit. Placing a young adult on your board helps increase your credibility with this demographic and indicates that you value millennials’ drive for professional development and are interested in actualizing our intrinsic leadership gifts.

A millennial board member will provide real-time, nuanced insights about how to better cultivate relationships with his or her peers. Lower the age barrier to entry for board members, and watch this person bridge generational communication gaps between staff, board members and your younger constituencies.

2. Go “old school” to tap millennial giving

This is especially true if your organization has yet to adopt online giving tools. The overriding message here: millennials hold tightly to time-honored values, most notably, trust. And what better way to cultivate this than by going old school? If you can effectively communicate this way, try sending millennials a personal donation request letter!

Our generation numbers more than 90 million, and a huge percentage of us are ready and willing to give to organizations who actively seek out (and will appreciate) our support. In a 2010 study of nearly 3,000 millennials, “93 percent gave financially to nonprofit organizations.” We are ripe for the picking, and we enjoy donating even when approached outside of the digital bubble.

3. Maintain a “mothership” website

While this may be a no-brainer, I’ve personally volunteered for nonprofits that are too distracted by the ever-evolving social media landscape to infuse enough professionalism and functionality into the most effective organizational marketing tool—their website!

According to Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, nonprofit websites should provide users

• a unique, purposeful and concise mission,

• easy to use navigation,

• a clear call to action, and

• photos that help them show—not just tell—what they do.

Strategically choose two social media tools (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, etc.) and use them to drive traffic to your website. Don’t overextend yourself in untargeted digital marketing forays; simply identify the channels that your communication team can implement, regularly maintain/monitor and then deploy them with a clear purpose in mind (i.e. increasing millennial interaction with your mission).

4. Celebrate online gifts par excellence!

Millennials who are committed to an organization’s cause will find a way to give; however, we tend to prefer donating online. According to the literature, entry level givers are more likely to offer gifts of $100 or less, but by acknowledging them in a more personalized fashion, you will respectfully motivate them to shimmy toward the upper end of millennial giving—$500 and above—and hopefully empower a connection for life.

By honoring their online gifts in the same ways you would thank upper echelon supporters (through personal letters, calls, appreciation events, visits, etc.), nonprofits can build more sustainable, long-term relationships with millennials as their income potential—and desire to give back—continues to rise.

5. Where is our dinero going?

Detail specifically how our gifts will help your nonprofit achieve its goals. Did you feed 522 extra people last Saturday? Send 12 more under-served youth on a wilderness trip in July? Teach 34 additional people sustainable farming techniques this year? Tell us about it and break it down—because we love transparency when following our dollars.

Millennials are more willing to give to new nonprofits if they speak to our hearts and inspire us in the moment. However, one of our biggest pet peeves is when organizations don’t describe how our contributions will directly benefit their mission.


In my survey of ten millennial donors (friends, colleagues, former classmates), 100 percent of the respondents were active nonprofit donors—typically supporting three to five different organizations, including human services, faith-based, and arts and culture nonprofits. Here are my most quotable findings:

  • “As a small donor, I often do not feel I get the recognition larger donors get. However, as a proportion of my disposable income, I probably donate more than these larger donors. As my income grows, so too (theoretically) will my donations. Organizations should really work to cultivate and welcome small donors as potential large donors in the future.”
  • “I pay the electric company extra each month to help heat the homes of people who can’t pay. I donate a percentage of each paycheck (biweekly) to the United Way. I contribute to nonprofits in the area by paying an annual membership fee that supports summer camps/children’s activities. Sometimes I volunteer at local food banks, etc. I prefer to donate my time rather than my money whenever possible because I like to participate in the process, but I also understand that these places need money to operate (plus with a full-time job I don’t have as much free time to offer). Overall, it’s important to think of others and to offer the time and money we can to support missions that aim to improve lives and communities and environments.”
  • “I am a huge fan of regular charitable giving. It is a way of giving back, and it reminds me that the purchasable things that I would like to have for myself really are secondary to my desire to make a positive contribution to the things that really matter in my community and my world. In this way, charitable giving helps me to reaffirm the kind of person I want to be.”


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