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Elizabeth Chung
7 min
How to Inspire Millennials, According to Millennials

How to Inspire Millennials, According to Millennials

Millennials are unlike any generation of donors. We expect to engage with nonprofit organizations through technology, transparency and hyper-connectivity. Once inspired, we can become loyal supporters who drive your mission forward.

While young people may not have as much giving power as older generations, the Giving USA 2014 report finds that the majority of Millennials (about 60 percent) donate to charitable organizations. Other sources, like the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, come to similar conclusions. Nearly 70 percent of Millennials are willing to fundraise for a nonprofit. Sixty-four percent already fundraise for walk/run/cycling events, and 46 percent would rather ask people to donate to a specific nonprofit than receive birthday gifts.

It’s no secret the Millennial generation has great charitable inclinations, and every organization needs to learn how to reach and engage young supporters. To learn how to engage this population, we figured the best way would be to ask Millennials themselves. That’s why we polled members of the Classy team to share what inspires them to support a nonprofit organization. Here’s what we said.

1. Communicate Your Mission Clearly

To be inspired, your cause needs to resonate with me. So tell me your mission: who are you helping, and how are you doing it? And what is the call to action? Why should I donate now?

Tyler Stender

Fan of clean water and beaches, citywide composting efforts, youth exposure to nontraditional sports

Rather than rallying around institutions, young supporters take action for causes we are passionate about. It’s up to your organization to educate us about your cause, why it’s important, and how supporting your programs can make a concrete impact on a broader issue. Compelling videos and photos, powerful stats, and infographics all work well.

In your communications, you also need to be extra clear about the next step you want people to take. According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, young respondents were turned off by nonprofit websites that were hard to navigate and didn’t immediately highlight the organization’s “who-what-why.” They also disliked donate buttons that didn’t state why someone should give. Both your emails and website should clearly explain the type of support you need and how the recipient can individually help you. Present a clear, bold call to action.

2. Explain Where the Money Goes

I’m most inspired when I can easily connect the dots between my dollar and the value to your organization. Even if it’s helping to provide something for your infrastructure or your business operations, I want to have a clear understanding of just how far the dollar(s) I’m choosing to give will go for you.

Erin Hall

Fan of female leadership programs, music & arts, initiatives promoting healthy body image through activity

Transparency is huge. Millennials want to see how your organization is using their money and maximizing their support. Whether you’re funding a specific program or your general operations for the next six months, explain how our donations are being used and how it moves your mission forward. Connect dollar amounts to their tangible impact on the field ($50 funds a child’s school supplies and uniform), and campaign totals with their concrete results (“We raised $2,050, which will build a school!”).

Young supporters also want examples of your organization’s results. Offer evidence of our gifts in action with photos and videos. And don’t wait until your project is finished to show it off. Broadcast your progress as it takes place. These constant updates build trust with supporters and encourage us to give again.

3. Understand the People You Serve

I appreciate when an organization truly understands the population they are serving. Organizations that seek to help people help themselves, or provide culturally-sensitive solutions that will actually be adopted are those that really understand how to make positive, lasting change. They should be a temporary solution to elevate underserved communities to permanent independent success.

Stacey Uy

Fan of social justice, LGBTQ rights, immigration equality

Millennials aren’t looking for one-time solutions to the world’s problems; we want to support effective organizations that make a permanent difference. We want to see how your solution is sustainable, and how it will continue to bring new opportunities to the communities you serve. How is your solution well fitted to benefit these people? Show us how you are not just helping, but empowering these communities. Use your website to dive into these facets of your work and philosophy.

4. Stay Grounded in Your Communications

I like when an organization is positive without being cheesy. Just be honest about the problems you’re facing and what you’re doing about it. I also prefer when organizations don’t portray the populations they serve as victims or ‘the other.’ If you don’t talk about and treat them like people, I’m dubious of your ability and intentions to help them.

Allison Gauss

Fan of mental health, human rights, the arts

Your organization is doing important work to change the world. But there is a way to communicate your efforts and results without speaking loftily. Be straightforward with your mission, how you plan to achieve it, and whom you serve. Your language should demonstrate how you don’t reach down, but work alongside the people you help to create lasting change.

5. Show What Sets You Apart

It’s inspiring when an organization approaches a problem with a new or unique solution that involves the community around them. They invest in expertise and they prove that they have a long-term plan to do good in their cause sector. It’s not just about money today; it’s about how they envision elevating humanity tomorrow.

Terri Harel

Fan of social justice

There are hundreds of other nonprofits in any given cause sector. With so many organizations vying for our attention, Millennials are highly selective with the nonprofits they choose to follow and support. What sets your organization apart from others with similar missions? How is your approach unique or innovative? And how will tackling this challenge together impact the wider issue in the long term? Beyond explaining this on your website, you should also demonstrate how each of your campaigns moves the ball forward in your overall mission. Communicate why you fund the things you do, as they relate to your organization’s larger vision.

6. Craft a Compelling Story

I connect with nonprofits that tell a compelling story. I want to learn about the problems they are trying to solve, but not from some pamphlet I receive in the mail. I have to make a connection with an organization before I donate, which is why having a well articulated story is incredibly important.

Elizabeth McDonough

Fan of social justice and veteran support and services

Effective storytelling helps create an emotional connection that moves people to give. Tell your organization’s story through compelling photos, videos, and other graphics that immediately appeal to the senses and connect with your supporters. In addition to showing how you impact the larger cause, share the personal stories of individuals who have been impacted by your work. After all, people are wired to connect emotionally with others.

Share this content through the channels your supporters are active on, including email, websites, and social media. Then invite your audience to become a part of the bigger story by taking action.

7. Prioritize Your Website Design

First impressions are huge. Take the time to develop a clean, well-executed brand. With so many affordable web design solutions out there, people are becoming accustomed to beautiful, simple, and well-designed websites. It’s the perfect way to build immediate trust and legitimacy within your organization.

Stacey Uy

Fan of social justice, LGBTQ rights, immigration equality

Once a prospective donor hits your website, it only takes a moment for them to form an opinion. According to research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology, people form a first impression of a website in less than two-tenths of a second. Clean, intuitive design can help draw in site visitors off the bat. Conversely, poor design can repel them. One study found that 94 percent of the reasons visitors reject or mistrust a site are design-related. Develop a beautiful website that’s easy to navigate, and you can connect instantly with young supporters.

Also prioritize mobile-responsive web design. The Millennial Impact Report found that 76 percent of respondents get frustrated when trying to navigate nonprofit websites that don’t display properly on their mobile devices. Design your website to adapt beautifully to any screen size, so supporters can engage with you wherever they are.

8. Show Off the Community Behind Your Brand

I’m motivated to support organizations that not only empower other communities, but also build one of their own. I’m more driven to participate when there are others who share the same goal. Who else is rallying around your cause? What are their stories? Show me the community I get to be a part of by supporting your organization.

Elizabeth Chung

Fan of human rights, education, high-quality healthcare for underserved communities

I’m going to be honest. Even if I am drawn to your cause, what really motivates me to dive in headfirst is seeing others take action. The promise of a broader community with a collective purpose creates a feeling of belonging. Demonstrate the community you have built around your brand. Make it easy for me to see other people in this community. Top fundraiser leaderboards and individual fundraiser shoutouts are a couple of ways to introduce other members.

Also prove how my support contributes to the overall success or failure of this community, as we work towards a common goal. A progress bar, for instance, can instantly help visualize how an individual’s gift moves the needle for your organization.

There you have it—a guide to engaging Millennials, as dictated by Millennials. Use these suggestions as a starting point to improve your fundraising and communications strategy. Engage this generation today to nurture lifelong supporters.

Read Now: How to Engage and Empower a Community of Millennials



Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

  • Crazy Joe

    Now if we can just get their heads out of their phones and carry on a coherent conversation…

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