Fundraise Smarter

13 Experts on Engaging Young Donors

Posted by Su Sanni on Jul 15, 2015 11:28:00 AM

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You won't find a bigger advocate of social media than me. But even I'll admit that it has a tendency to highlight some less than desirable traits in all of us.

Take for example the way we interact with causes and nonprofits on Facebook and Twitter.

All of us are guilty at times in participating in what I like to call "slacktivism." We change our profile picture, use a hashtag, or post a status supporting some cause or social justice campaign. Then when it comes time to make a donation or take a real action for that cause, well...

...I'll get to it later.

Agh! It's terrible! But those micro actions are so easy to take, and it feels so good doing it, we just can't help ourselves.

So how do you take someone from "slack" to "act"?

That's exactly what we're going to tackle in our next webinar! Join me, Rory Green, and Maeve Strathy on July 29th for our webinar, "From Slack To Act! Converting Clicks to Donations in 3 Steps." We couldn't be more thrilled about this, as I have a ton of respect for both Rory and Maeve.

To get things kicked off for the webinar, I asked 13 fundraising experts to share some thoughts on engaging young donors. Check out some of these great quotes below!

Maeve Strathy

maeve“Young people don't feel a sense of obligation around giving. It's not habitual, it's not a duty, and we want to criticize them for that. But what if we look at it this way: they're holding us accountable. They're not passive donors who trust us with their hard-earned money; they're active donors who want us to work for their philanthropy. So what do we have to do first? Engage them. Involve them in our cause. It's worth the work, and we'll all be better off for it.”

Rory Green

rory_green"For younger donors, supporting a charity isn’t something that they do – it’s who they are. Show them how supporting your cause is a natural extension of their core beliefs and values if you want to truly be successful!"

Marc Pitman

marc_pitman“Stop freaking out about how "different" the Millenials are. But don't try to shift your entire fundraising and volunteer systems to Millennials either. Instead, learn to communicate with Boomers. They are the largest subset of current donors. And learn to communicate effectively with Xers. There are less of us but we're in the prime years of our income producing (as lean as those years may be). And we're the next board members - if we're not on your boards already. As you're doing this, you'll learn to talk with Millennials. And you'll be able to keep the funding and volunteers your charity needs now and in the future.” (Adapted from the post "Millenials aren't really that different!")

Beth Kanter

beth_kanter"Be Flexible. Don't make them fit your mold, adapt to theirs. Also, learn their language - they communicate visually, in short bursts, across multiple screens. Use emoiji, even if you think they're stupid."
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Jen Love

jen love | fundraiser“Your charity is a way for your donors to take action for something they value and believe in. Younger donors in particular are connected to you in many ways—online petitions or pledges, attending events, following and joining conversations in social media—and you can nurture their good feelings by recognizing and celebrating all the ways they support you. Share stories that show the impacts of giving, using real, emotional language.”

John Lepp

john_leppMaeve and I have spoken about this and Ive listened to penelope burke present her own thinking and research on doing a better job at stewarding the walking atm’s of tomorrow.
Our own work constantly celebrates the hard work of the donors that give today. Right now. The ones that most charities are ignoring.
The real issue is one of genuine gratitude.
Charities and orgs are tremendously bad at stewarding and loving those who do support them – regardless of demographic or channel of giving – in the name of trying to find the new ones. Classic error.
Engaging young donors is the same as engaging older donors. You have to tell inspiring stories that speak to their personal values, you have to ensure you are listening to them when they are “talking" to you, when you ask them to take action or do something, you have to make it as clear and personally inviting as possible, if they give or take the action you are asking for, you have to pour generous heaps of donor love over them and make them feel that without them – your org would not be the same as it is WITH them… When you do these things at the right time and creatively different in the right context – tada! You will win.
Easy right?”

Kimberley Mackenzie

kimberley_mackenzie“If charities are still looking to have robust fundraising programs in 10 and 20 years, they are going to have to change the way they think about donor engagement. Social campaigns and calls to action will be the first step in the relationship, instead of a financial transaction. Giving up control, more restricted funding and significantly improved online technology and service are becoming increasingly important. Basically, I think charities are going to have to work harder to earn and then keep the support of millennial donors. This starts of course with trying to attract more younger people on the board of directors and then LISTENING to their suggestions.”

Peter Heller

peter_heller“There is a lot of research and data on young donors. They appear to behave differently from previous generations. They like to have more than just a money relationship with things they support and they like to involve their friends. But we’re not talking about the biggest gifts to any nonprofit and my hunch is that when these folks start making those gifts, they will need to be related to in ways that are similar to the previous generations.”

Mary Cahalane

mary_cahalane“Fundraisers need to be more concerned with forming the relationship and less concerned with the dollar amount. Make it easy to start giving. Treat them well and ask them to be involved in non-monetary ways as well. And then when their finances allow, they'll be ready to give more.”

Karen E. Osborne

karen osborne | fundraiser“Gen X and the youngest boomers are the next generation from a major gift perspective. Although a small cohort, they are hitting their peak earning and giving years. 46% of Xers view online videos of the charities they support. Create an under two minute impact video on your smartphone or tablet, download onto your devices and take on donor visits. Now imagine that conversation: “I spoke with one of our beneficiaries. I’d love for you to see the difference you’re making.” Include family in your engagement strategies. Seek advice and input before asking for money.”

Rickesh Lakhani

rickesh lakhani | fundraiser“We undervalue the contributions of young supporters by looking only at "dollars donated annually" as a metric - they are amazing connectors, advocates and sparkplugs, and are being listened to by people of influence keen to engage this demographic. Next generation donors are on the opposite side of the continuum of "checkbook philanthropy", requiring a more involved approach, but leading to a deeper connection. Engaging young donors with meaningful volunteer opportunities, a strong online presence and chances to meet new people will create super champions who will strengthen and broaden your foundation of support.”

Elise Ledsinger

elise_ledsinger“Why should fundraisers care about a generation of people who likely can't make generous contributions? Because they are the ones responsible for the increase in online and mobile giving, and they are the ones who will be leaving endowments and bequests in years to come.
If we can make them care now, we hope to keep them engaged for the future.
According to a recent study by HJC and Blackbaud, Gen Y represented the largest margin for online and mobile/text donors - 47% have donation online in the past 2 years and 15% have given via mobile/text.
We have to care about and target our young supporters in order to maximize engagement, and ultimately, fundraising opportunities.
Tell them "here's what's in it for you" because they are a generation of "me".”

Lori Jacobwith

lori_jacobwith"Any of your supporters, no matter what age, want to FEEL something good when they support you with their time, talent, stuff or money. But younger supporters want to make more gifts at a smaller dollar
amounts and smaller time commitments. Keep that in mind as you invite their support:

  • Invite very specific support: $33 will do this _______ for Claire...and tell them about how your organization makes a difference in Clair's life.
  • Invite very specific support: When you purchase a ticket to the show on Thursday, July 2 you making it possible for us to help more people like ______ get her GED, or feel safe or?.
  • Invite them to do things they like to do. At a recent training I delivered for about 100 young people attending a YNPN in Kansas City I had everyone get out their phone and go to one of the social media accounts of their favorite charity. I asked them to comment and forward on or Re-Tweet something. The energy in the room skyrocketed! People from one side of the room were sharing info from some of the organizations present in the room. There was laughter, engaged conversations and they truly did something helpful by raising awareness of an organization that means something to them.

Bonus Quotes!

Vanessa Chase

vanessa_chase"Successfully connecting with GenX/Y donors requires shift in values. Innovation, accessibility, and transparency need to be the norm. I also recommend reading The XYZ Factor by"

Brock Warner

brock warner | fundraiser"My subjective take on this is that I've found that Gen X/Y'ers have a genuine interest the inner workings of an organization and the inputs required to make change possible. War Child's work is complex, and I've found younger donors often do want to go deep into an issue. I often wonder if it's because younger people are still actively learning, that the brain still has a little more of a sponge quality left in it, you know? I also wonder if it's because younger people are vocal in their support of a cause, and for that reason want to feel comfortable on the subject matter. Like say, they may want to give a gift then post about it on Facebook - but they want to have the tools to defend their choice should it ever be questioned. I don't know that my grandma ever has ever had that concern because she doesn't share with the world her charities of choice.

I've also learned to never make assumptions about their ability to give once they are engaged in the cause. The capacities of Gen Y especially are as varied, if not more, than almost any other age bracket I'd bet. So they shouldn't be excluded from any of any standard identification, research, etc. that you would otherwise do for a Gen X'er, Boomer or older."

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Topics: fundraising, online fundraising, young donors

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