This piece was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
In 2004, I co-founded Spark, a nonprofit organization to support global women’s issues. Starting with six women in our 20s, Spark is now a network of 11,000 members and the largest network of Millennial donors in the world. Over the past ten years we have raised more than $1.5 million in relatively small contributions, mostly less than $100. As Spark grew, The Women’s Funding Network, a group of more than 160 women’s foundations around the world—typically run by baby boomers—began to notice.
The leadership asked us for our secret sauce: How do we get more Millennials involved in the women’s movement? The network was having trouble galvanizing them and, more specifically, getting them to open their wallets. Although research shows that close to 85 percent of Millennials donate to nonprofit organizations, the majority of the network’s donors were much older.
Cultivating the next generation of donors is the lifeblood of the future of the women’s movement, or any nonprofit for that matter. SSIR contributors Derrick Feldman and Emily Yu, through a joint project of the Case Foundation and Achieve, have spent the last four years exploring how the Millennial generation gets involved with and gives to social causes. As they highlight in their post, “Millennials and the Social Sector,” to be successful, nonprofits must cater to younger and older donors alike. But that’s a lot easier said than done.
The challenge is that older and younger donors approach activism in different ways. In the women’s movement, for example, while boomers protested in the streets to support Roe v. Wade, Millennials raise their voices on the Internet, waging campaigns such as the recent digital takedown of the chairman and co-founder of athletic clothing company Lululemon, Chip Wilson. When Wilson blamed a faulty batch of see-through yoga pants on “women’s bodies,” thousands of young women went negative, hijacking the company’s Facebook page and tweeting their disgust about his comments, ultimately leading to a teary apology and his resignation. And while boomers spent decades fighting to promote feminism, even though75 percent of millennial women think we need more change to achieve gender equality, the term “feminism” is controversial among many of the students I teach, who believe it has negative connotations. Even Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has said that while she believes in “equal rights” and that “women are just as capable,” she believes feminism itself is a “more negative word.”
So how do we unite to break through the generational differences and tensions, and harness Millennials participation? Here are a few of the lessons we have learned through Spark that can help nonprofit organizations appeal to Millennial donors: