This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
For many nonprofit organizations, getting young people to support their work seems an insurmountable challenge. Millennials are a mystery to them. As the stereotype goes, what is the use of involving the lazy, unemployed, social media-addicted generation, anyway? Even so, it’s widely understood that Millennial engagement is vital to cultivating a pipeline of support for the years to come.
The good news is that engaging Millennials does not have to be such mystery. In fact Millennial supporters can become an organization’s most avid champions. At Spark, an organization I co-founded, which is now the largest network of Millennial donors in the world, we’ve proven that while they may not have as much to give, collectively their impact can be powerful. In nearly 10 years, we have raised more than $1.5 million to support women’s issues, mostly in contributions of less than $100, and probably even more importantly, we have inspired a large group of young people to support gender equality issues who will likely continue to contribute to women’s organizations for decades.
As I wrote in a previous post on this topic, spurring Millennial engagement requires a multi-pronged strategy. In that post I discussed three such strategies; here are three more:
1. Use social media to facilitate action and giving. Research shows that 75 percent of Millennials regularly like, retweet, or share stories on social media. Many people write off social media sharing as “slactivism” that does not translate into dollars. But studies show that online activism has many benefits: It provides donors with a diversity of entry points for engagement, and makes participating and giving simple, efficient, and part of a daily routine of online activity.
The Representation Project has been masterful at using social media to promote the films it produces and provide opportunities for action. For example, after releasing the film Miss Representation, about the misrepresentation of women in the media, the organization launched the #NotBuyingIt campaign, which invited people to tweet about instances of products or ads that misrepresent or degrade women. The campaign has forced many companies to remove sexist ads; it also stopped a multimillion-dollar Superbowl campaign by GoDaddy featuring a scantily clad woman to sell its Internet-hosting products. Millennial participation on Twitter has also translated into donations. The Representation Project raised just over $23,000 to fund a Not Buying It app following the campaign; 96 percent of the donations were less than $100.
2. Connect donations with specific projects. The research study and report titled “The Millennial Impact” showed that Millennials want to know how organizations are using their contributions. Focus groups showed that their biggest complaint was that they didn’t know how their gift made a difference. This is precisely why we started Spark. As new professionals in our early 20’s, we felt that our relatively small donations were going into a black hole. A $50 gift was a stretch for many of us, but it felt like a drop in the bucket compared to the multimillion-dollar budgets of large organizations. To give young people a clear understanding of where their money is going, we design many of our fundraising drives around targeted projects. For example, one of our campaigns was to raise money for foot-powered water pumps via the Mandiso Water Pump Project in Madagascar. For $60, donors could pay for a pump that would supply enough water to sustain two farms. Our members loved the connection we made between their contributions and the impact the pumps would have, and they enthusiastically contributed, sending funds for pumps as gifts for friends and family. We instantly sold 75 pumps, raising $4500 for the Project with minimal staff effort.
3. Give donors easy ways to get their friends involved. More than 70 percent of Millennials have raised money on behalf of a nonprofit organization. So how do you get them to raise money for you? By making peer-to-peer fundraising easy for them. At Spark, we developed a program called Spark Champions to encourage people to get their friends involved. In becoming champions, members committed to raising $1,000 from their networks. In exchange, we provided fundraising training to teach them the ins and outs of asking friends. We also helped them host events—shopping nights at boutiques, house parties with film screenings, and Facebook drives to raise money in honor of someone’s birthday—where they could invite their friends to donate. The program was an enormous success, raising $180,000 in its first year—nearly half of our annual budget at the time.
Try developing an action-oriented social media strategy, project-based giving opportunities and easy and fun peer-to-peer fundraising programs, and I predict you will see Millennials respond with vigor.