Young professionals—the millennial generation—have an estimated $62.7 billion to spend. They’re increasingly stepping up to the plate in place of Baby Boomers as the primary workforce and volunteer force. To successfully engage young professionals as donors, board members, and volunteers, organizations are looking towards new membership strategies that better acquire and retain these supporters. One organization that does this particularly well is the Ronald McDonald House.
Ronald McDonald House is a nationwide organization that provides housing and services to families with seriously ill or injured children. Designed to eliminate worries that often accompany serious medical crises, such as where the affected family can afford to stay, where they will get their next meal, or where they can they can simply get some rest, local Ronald McDonald Houses offer families a home away from home at little or no cost.
The Red Shoe Society – A New Type of Membership
The Red Shoe Society (RSS) is a dedicated group of young professionals who volunteer with, and act as stewards for, their local Ronald McDonald House. They host events, volunteer time and skills, and network with each other to support families using the House’s services. We asked Rachel Barker, the corporate and community development coordinator for the San Diego Ronald McDonald House, what makes RSS so successful.
“The members! Without the ideas, enthusiasm and heart of our members, RSS would not be possible. While the staff at Ronald McDonald House is happy to support their efforts however possible, the Red Shoe Society’s Leadership Committee spearheads the society’s initiatives and is the driving force of their group. The commitment of our members makes this endeavor possible.
What Members Think
Classy sales team member Jennifer Dymickie is an active member of the Red Shoe Society. Here’s what she told us about the experience being in a young professional’s cause group.
How she was recruited: Word-of-mouth marketing
Why she joined: After experiencing what it was like to have a family member go through cancer treatment, she felt compelled to give back to a hyper-relevant cause like the Red Shoe Society.
How she describes RSS: RSS is a great way for young professionals to combine their interest in networking/professional development and supporting a meaningful cause. Her favorite part of Red Shoe Society?
“Events are relaxed, positive, light-hearted, fun, and always a good time. And, more importantly, it supports giving families experiencing a traumatic life event a much-needed break.
Important Lessons for Your Own Organization’s Success:
- Encourage members to tell their friends, family, and colleagues about the organization. This personalization and word-of-mouth can really encourage new members to join.
- Cater to young professionals’ interests. This young generation is career-focused, passionate, and fun-loving. Embody these attitudes at your member events to recruit new members and retain them.
- Demonstrate impact instantaneously. Ms. Dymickie highlights that she appreciates she can see the impact she’s making on multiple people’s lives, despite the small time commitment required of her. Because of this visible impact, Ms. Dymickie plans to continue supporting the Red Shoe Society.
How to Approach Membership
Red Shoe Society events are open to the public for recruiting purposes, but membership fees are required to become more involved in Ronald McDonald House volunteer opportunities or events. All membership fees go towards the needs of the Ronald McDonald House. Young professional members are then able to:
- Volunteer at the House through RSS-coordinated activities.
- Join an action team to assist with event planning.
- Attend fun social events.
- Develop valuable leadership and communication skills.
- Access a passionate network of like-minded young professionals in their city.
- Expand their social circle while doing good.
Important Lessons for Your Own Organization’s Success:
Discover what opportunities you can offer to engage young professionals that align with their interests like socializing, professional development, and leadership.
Incorporate a social element to events, so that current members are encouraged to invite friends or colleagues who might be interested in your cause.
Event Ideas From the Red Shoe Society
The Red Shoe Society holds events year-round and provides members an opportunity to connect and network while having fun. Some events the Red Shoe Society hosts to engage young professionals include:
- Member Mixer at a local bar
- 5K Run/Walk
- Red Shoes & Brews – an annual dinner that features the city’s best local breweries
- Shop.Sip.Feast – handcrafted, artisinal shopping meets local bites and sips
- Red Shoe Shindig – cocktails, music, dancing, and auction
- Annual Gala
- Annual Golf Invitational
- Red Shoe Crawl – culinary delights from a variety of restaurants
- Rock the House – a curling competition
Success Means Truly Understanding Your Audience
The Ronald McDonald House and Red Shoe Society attribute their success at engaging young professionals with truly understanding them. Young adults tend to prefer active, hands-on opportunities rather than letting financial donations serve as their main point of interaction. Philanthropy News Digest noted that personal relationships founded on trust are extremely important and motivational for millennials. RSS accomplishes this by facilitating ways to develop personal ties and communication.
What’s more, in a 6,500-person survey conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 70 percent of Millennials said they encouraged colleagues and friends to support a cause. With enticing events specifically targeted towards young adult professionals, the RSS is able to use the most effective form of marketing—word-of-mouth marketing—to attract other millennial donors.
“If your way of getting involved (with a nonprofit) is $500 dinners, you probably aren’t going to get a lot of young people who are just starting their careers,” Ashley Hartman, president of Young Nonprofits Professional Network (YNPN) Cleveland, told Cleveland.com.
From my experience, there is no lack of young people who want to be engaged. It’s just a matter of bridging that gap.
Photo Credit: Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego