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Ending Slacktivism: Turning Millennials Into Long-Term Supporters

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Feb 5, 2015 4:16:00 PM

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My poor generation, we get such a bad rap. It seems almost weekly that a new viral post makes it way through Facebook about how self-involved, entitled, and lazy we are. With a reputation like that, you might think that philanthropy is the last thing on a Millennial’s mind.

Problem is, none of that is true.

Millennials want to help causes they care about. They crave meaning and direction. They’re ready to mobilize. And lots of nonprofits have done, well…a crappy job of empowering them.

Enter “slacktivism.”

You may have never heard the word, but you’ve likely seen slacktivism in action. “Slacktivism” refers to people connecting themselves with a philanthropic or altruistic cause on social media, and perhaps taking minor actions towards that cause (like changing their profile picture to a ribbon), but without actually doing anything that requires any sort of sacrifice of time or money. Usually, this is chalked up to a narcissistic desire for an individual to “show off” and let their friends on social media show how caring and selfless they are.

Slacktivism usually happens in waves, taking over your entire newsfeed in a terrifying wave of ribbon profile pictures in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, it seems these actions rarely translate into dollars donated, hours volunteered, or really much more than a vague notion of “awareness.”


I'm aware, I'm aware! Make it stop!

But does it have to be this way? If we get past the cynical attitude of writing off slacktivism as nothing more than Millennial narcissism, there’s evidence that supporting an altruistic cause is something young people truly care about and want to share with their networks.

In fact, there’s evidence to support that these micro-actions may have more of an impact than we realize; they may actually be small steps taken before a young person makes a larger commitment to a cause. And as the Millennials age and obtain more wealth, it would certainly behoove saavy nonprofits to start building relationships now.

So how can you help move a Millennial from “slack” to “act?”

1. Highlight the people and the issue, not yourself

How’s that for irony? For all the talk of Millennials being self-absorbed, sometimes it’s non-profits that need to talk about themselves less.

Young people don’t want to hear about you, your institution, or your organization; they want to know about the issues you’re solving or the people you’re helping. It might be tempting to brag about how long your organization has been around or the awesome people you employ, but stay on message! What’s the issue? Why is it a problem? What’s the solution?

2. Be specific

How much should a person donate and what exactly will that donation do? You’re far more likely to secure a donation if you ask for a specific amount, while also telling donors what exactly their donation will do.

I experienced this at the grocery store recently: to raise money for a food bank, my local grocery store requested donations at three different levels to buy meals for families in need. Each amount was extremely specific (down to the cent), and each level was labeled with the exact products that would be purchased for the food bank with your donation. It hooked me, and I bought a meal.

Our friends at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps did a great job of this during one of their campaigns:


Now I know exactly the kind of impact my donation will have. I can visualize the student reading their $100 textbook that will help them get a job that pays them well. That's impact.

Making a Millennial’s impact tangible will pay off!

3. Utilize deadlines

Make taking action urgent by utilizing deadlines. These could be artificial deadlines, perhaps along the lines of “today is the last day to donate and be entered in our drawing for a prize.” But chances are, your NPO deals with some real donation deadlines as well. The last chance to donate money to go to a specific cause, the last chance to call senators before they vote on a bill, the last chance to sign a petition before it’s sent off to the President.

4. Bring the whole crew

When it comes to volunteer opportunities, Millennials prefer to volunteer in groups, and a large majority enjoy company-wide days of service at their workplaces. If you’re not seeking out and organizing group volunteer projects, you may be missing out on valuable opportunities to connect with large groups of potential backers. If you really want to get them excited about lending your organization a hand, look for ways to utilize specific jobs skills as a volunteer opportunity. A whopping 97% Millennials prefer to use their unique skill sets for volunteer work.

5. Call ‘em out!

Challenge them! Come out and tell your young followers that you need help, and sharing a status won’t cut it. A little dose of honesty can serve as a great call-to-action and a reminder of the reality of the issue your organization works to solve.

Don’t underestimate the power of sharing

Even something that smacks of slacktivism can still provide measurable returns. Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which was widely criticized as slacktivism. Yet as a whole, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100 million! Without question, this is an exception and not the rule, but micro-actions can be important first steps towards a stronger relationship between your organization and young supporters.

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Image credits:

Ribbon picture: Flickr user Steven Depolo, CC-BY-2.0 

Topics: young donors

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