We've all heard the clichés about millennials "killing” businesses. Breathless articles scrutinizing the generations spending habits and differing priorities from their parents and grandparents. In headlines spanning nearly the last decade, millennials have been blamed for the death of everything from posh country club golf courses, to the humble table napkin.
But, what do they mean for nonprofits?
A potentially bright future.
With a heightened awareness of social issues and world events compared to previous generations, millennials represent a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits looking for passionate new donors. However, they also represent new challenges. Millennials have different expectations of their charitable organizations than their parents, and if you want to succeed with the new generation, you need to accommodate them.
A charitable generation
Thanks to research studies such as the Millennial Impact Report (MIR), we can safely say that millennials are an extremely optimistic and giving generation, despite the typical media narrative depicting them as cynical and entitled.
Did you know that over half of all millennials already donate? 52% of millennials polled by the MIR reported they recently (within the past month when asked) gave to a charitable cause. What's more, this isn't a fluke or onetime thing, millennials are also more likely to increase their giving year-over-year when compared with other age groups (provided their needs and expectations are being met).
More millennials give than other age groups, and they give for longer periods of time. There is huge potential in targeting millennials as donors. According to the MIR, the vast majority of millennials (over 90%) believe that they can have an impact and make the world a better place. These are not placid, languid youths waiting to see what the world gives them, they are active participants who specifically support what they believe in and want to see.
Take a look at millennial entertainment spending. Look at the massive millennial driven boom in services such as KickStarter, GoFundMe, and Pateron. Platforms where people pledge their dollars behind products they want to see created by small businesses they believe in. Where they give to individual charitable causes and people in need. Where they support ongoing media and entertainment groups that could never have worked for found funding within the traditional media structure.
Put plainly, millennials know what they want and they're willing to put their money where their mouth is to make it happen. Discard those popular notions of the whinny, cynical, iPhone obsessed brat who lives on handouts from their parents. While it's true that millennial spending habits are different from their parents and the average income is down, their willingness to identify and support causes that are resonate with them far outstrip any other generation.
A wider reach and louder voice
The main cultural difference between millennials and the generations that came before them is the impact of the internet. While the net has changed the world for every person, young and old, the millennials were the first generation to grow up in a world shaped by instant global communication. They are more savvy, informed, and pro-active when it comes to seeking out interests and causes.
What does this mean for your nonprofit? It means you're hoping to attract a generation of donors that can simply give to needy causes on their own. It means your organization's "big name recognition” might not mean as much since the democratizing effect of the internet allows smaller voices in the field just as big of a stage. It also means you need there is a greater expectation of transparency, communication, and trust.
These are not problems, they are golden opportunities!
Small and midsized nonprofits don't need to live under the shadow of gigantic NGOs and established international organization anymore. The work your nonprofit does can afford to be more niche, more specialized without worrying that you won't be able to communicate your vision to a wide enough audience to matter. It means good practices, results, and trustworthy behavior is recognized and rewarded.
It also means your donors can become your greatest advocates using their own reach and voice.
The power of millennials and social sharing
Hacky think pieces look at the popularity of social media with the millennial generation as a symptom of narcissism. As a way of constantly looking for attention and seeking praise. But, like so many assumptions, this one is off the mark. Millennials use social media for sharing and networking. They're not obsessed with their phone, they're obsessed with the people on the other end of the phone.
Millennials share what they care about. If they are passionate enough to donate to a cause, they will be passionate enough to talk about it on Facebook, to link to it on Twitter. They want to show that they've made a difference, sure, but they also want to make a bigger one by spreading the word and having their friends join in as well.
The nonprofits that will do the best over the next decade are the ones that will adapt to this reality the fastest. The ones that see what a difference social media can make for an organization and recognize the value of a real, organized, online presence – not some hastily filled out profile that nobody ever updates or keeps an eye on.
Social media is also a great way to demonstrate the impact your nonprofit is making, which is also important because -
Millennials value results more than brand loyalty
One of the more interesting insights of the MIR was that while more socially conscious and active on average, millennials are also less sentimental in a few ways. While passionate about causes and social justice, millennials are less attached to the specific organizations working towards them. If they feel that the organization they have been donating to isn't making as much of an impact as another organization in the same field, they won't stop donating, but they will change who they give their support to.
That's why it is more important than ever to be able to communicate the positive and substantive impact your organization is making. You need to be more upfront with how funds are being used, what your projected goals are, how you performed last year, and provide more tangible success stories and examples to back up your claims.
Thankfully, the internet makes these demands much easier to satisfy. Detailed reporting on your website, searchable document libraries with relevant materials, and the ability to quickly share successes far and wide on social media can make these expectations engines for success rather than burdens. It all depends on how you look at it and how much you embrace millennial values in your organization.
Moving forward with millennials
Millennials are the future of your nonprofit. As more and more baby boomers and generation X'ers move towards retirement and millennials take the reins as the active adult generation of our times, it's important to move with them.
This is a good thing. As we established, millennials are more likely to give than any previous generation, easier to talk to directly, and more likely to become recurring, long-term donors so long as they feel they are seeing the impact they value.
Make your online presence a priority. Create a social media strategy and put the resources behind it to properly support it. Change the way you think about marketing to be constantly sharing success stories and highlighting positive steps.
Millennials might have killed the cocktail napkin, abandoned baseball, and are currently working on the extinction of traditional newspapers, but they can breathe new life into your nonprofit as long as you move with the times.