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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.”


Works cited:



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Advancement’s new vocabulary: “Tweets” and “likes”

By Mike Wiese, associate

Should your organization consider using social media to engage young people’s support and involvement? The answer is yes. While in the past this generation may have primarily been reached through a printed letter, newsletter or advertisement, today’s young people are more apt to communicate via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest and other such platforms as well.

Before considering specific tools, let’s understand why social media as a whole works. Young donors like social media because they want to be personally connected with things and people that they care about. Relationships matter to them and they want to stay in touch. If young people are passionate about your mission and want to be active on your behalf, you need to communicate via their tools and let them use those tools to spread the word. Social media is the most effective way that young people share word of mouth endorsements.

Here we offer pros and cons of the two most used forms of social media today—Twitter and Facebook—along with one suggested way your organization can begin utilizing these tools to build relationships with younger donors. As the previous paragraph suggests, however, many younger donors are seeking, first and foremost, not a repository for their funds, but a connection and a relationship. Social media allows them the opportunity to stay in touch with your organization and to be active on its behalf in other ways as they establish their own habits of charitable giving that may benefit you in the future.



• More than one quarter of online adults between 18-29 use Twitter—nearly double the number of users age 30-49.*

• In a short message (tweet) you can let followers know about an activity to generate attendance.

• Followers can easily share information, ask questions, get questions answered and pass your information on (retweet) to their followers.

• You can follow other experts to learn from them and share with them.

• One can monitor keywords (through hashtags) to see what others are saying about your organization.

• Account set-up and use are free.


• Messages are limited to 140 characters.

• Time is required to build community and post meaningful tweets.

• Tweets need to be meaningful and in line with specific marketing objectives and brand.

• Although you can include a link to visual items, Twitter is not good for visual content.

Example: A group of constituents follows your organization on Twitter. On the morning of a major event, you want to remind your followers that the event is later that day. You send a tweet to your followers, some of whom retweet to their friends that they are going, and invite those friends to come with them.



• Users include over 1.1 billion individuals—67% of all adult internet users—from a broad demographic.*

• Visual content can be shared easily.

• Facebook is interactive and allows people to respond to your posts (through comments and likes).

• Content can be linked to websites or other social media sites such as Instagram (sharing photos) and Pinterest (“a tool for collecting and sharing things you love”).

• Ads can be purchased that align to a profile of people who are likely to be interested in your organization.


• Setting up a “Facebook Fan Page” and getting fans for your organization requires time and resources. (People become fans by liking your organization’s page.)

• Posts need to be meaningful, informative and to support your marketing objectives/brand.

• Pages must be kept up to date and regularly monitored.

• Facebook ads require a budget.

• Having reputation management policies in place is important if someone places a negative post on your page.

Example: After your event you post an informative update and photos on your Fan Page to let your fans know what happened. Fans respond to the post by “liking it” and sharing a comment. Some fans post your message on their personal profile page to share with their friends.

Major companies are shifting large portions of their communications budget away from traditional media to social media. If you haven’t already, you may wish to consider adding a social media component as part of your next advancement plan. The two examples listed here just scratch the surface of what is possible. AAI is prepared to offer additional ideas for faith-based nonprofits who wish to incorporate social media into their overall advancement strategy.


*Statistics according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Post-Election Survey, November 14-December 09, 2012.


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Former clients respond: How are you intentionally nurturing donors under 40?

We asked a dozen advancement officers to respond to the question, “How is your organization intentionally nurturing relationships with donors 40 years old or younger?” Their replies revealed an impressive understanding of the needs and desires of this age group, coupled with creativity in their various approaches.

Photo courtesy of Hinkletown Mennonite School

Ruth Leaman, Hinkletown Mennonite School (Ephrata, PA): “We sponsor a business networking breakfast. About 80 local business owners attended, many of them young. The event provides connections for the school with business owners that we would otherwise not have opportunity to connect with, provides a professional presentation of the school and creates collaboration within our community. This is an entry point event for new potential donors and we have had good results in moving new business owners into support for HMS within 6-12 months of our last breakfast, including two new friends who became major donors to our capital campaign.

As a follow-up to the breakfast we have developed a mini-course on entrepreneurship, in which we take groups of students to visit some of these businesses. Students benefit from learning outside of their regular curriculum and business owners are happy to share their knowledge.”

Aaron Adelsberger, Adriel (West Liberty, OH): “We have been moving away from blanket requests for our annual fund, and doing much more in the way of purpose driven requests. This is specifically to attract and engage a younger generation of donors. Rather than just writing us a check and saying, “I hope you put it to good use,” we find that younger donors like knowing that they were a part of purchasing a new piece of equipment, or that they were a part of funding a specific program, and are more likely to respond to that request and to be engaged in a meaningful way.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Academy

Vernetta Waltner, Freeman Academy (Freeman, SD): “We have hosted a dinner with a special program and provided child care for our local young donors, aged 20-35. One year I hosted an evening that included a supper and time to play volleyball or basketball for alumni who were getting ready to leave for college. Our annual holiday alumni fellowship includes basketball games and a time to visit with those of all ages who are in the community for Christmas. As I plan visits to specific cities or states, I try to meet with young alumni over coffee or a meal. Sometimes that is a group of college students and other times it is young couples.”

Photo courtesy of Christopher Dock High School

Susan Gingerich, Christopher Dock High School (Lansdale, PA): “At the senior breakfast I place a card with a penny on it at each senior’s place, encouraging them to make their first donation before they graduate by turning in the card with a $5 bill attached. I promote the Golden Anniversary endowment gift at each class reunion. This concept is to set up a class endowment with the school so that by the time the class has its 50th anniversary, it will have donated $50,000 to their class’s endowment. We provide food and space for a one-year reunion of graduates. We encourage and assist with five-year (interval) reunions for all classes each year.”

Bruce Drayer, Gateway Woods (Leo, IN): “During the summer, we have many young people spend a week or more with us. They work on our campus and interact with the residents during the day. In the evenings, there will be volunteer events to encourage fellowship. Also, every other Monday we play sports with our residents and young people in our church. These events drive participation and passion. We also keep an updated Facebook page and Twitter account. Many of our former volunteers and friends regularly check these accounts.”

Larry L. Swartzendruber, Iowa Mennonite School (Kalona, IA): “We’re using things like Facebook and other social media more. Since the under-40 crowd is increasingly mobile and more tech-savvy, we’ve also made it easier to make online donations by accepting credit cards, automatic withdrawals/deposits, etc. I continue to believe that personal relationships and one-on-one conversations are the best way to engage donors of all ages, but it requires establishing that relationship to know what method of contact and interaction is best. That applies to each and every donor.”