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How to Engage the New Generation of Donors

There has been a lot of talk buzzing around Generation Y, aka Millennials. Who are they? What drives them? At 75.4 million strong, Millennials are the largest generation in America, with an annual spending power of $200 million—and they are changing the nature of giving.

As the definition of philanthropic giving expands from the donation of financial gifts to include time, influence and engagement, the potential for sustained returns on investment through a network of loyal donors also increases. In this article, we explore some of the ways Millennials and nonprofits are collaborating to drive positive change.

Increasing Volunteer Engagement

“Find the easiest way to connect Millennials with your mission and cause. Give them hands-on experience and show them how they are making a difference. That’s how you get long-term advocates, volunteers and even donors.”—Matthew Goldstein, executive director of Besa

Nonprofits are continuing to evolve how they support and increase their overall volunteer engagement efforts. Matthew Goldstein, executive director of Besa, said that Besa volunteers work hand-in-hand with staff on projects that have a direct impact on their mission. He also said Millennials want to be engaged in giving back, but they are busy people—sometimes involved with multiple causes or initiatives. Therefore, to engage Millennial volunteers, it is key to make it as easy as possible, with as few barriers to entry as possible. Some other tactics include:

  • Recognizing volunteers for service and participation in community/cause projects.

  • Developing peer-centered volunteer programs, and giving recognition for the outcomes and impact.

  • Finding a framework to design custom skills-based volunteer opportunities.

  • Putting Millennials on advisory boards so they can offer insights into cause initiatives.

Source: 2015 Millennial Impact Report

Developing Cause-Driven Campaigns

“Millennials want a deeper connection with the nonprofits and causes they support. They don’t want to simply cut a check, they want to be part of the organization and help advance the mission forward. This generation not only understands, but also strongly desires creating a better future for the generations after them.”—Teresa Trost, executive director of Community Shares of Mid Ohio

Nonprofits are seeing success through a wide variety of customized giving mechanisms that leverage both their cause and the social networks of this tech-savvy generation. More and more, nonprofits are:

  • Creating peer campaign tool kits to help volunteers raise money.

  • Developing peer-to-peer fundraising models that allow fundraisers to learn from each other, providing support through campaign mentoring, and designing a recognition model for both the fundraisers and the donors.

  • Recognizing giving by highlighting stories and modeling philanthropic behavior.

  • Mentoring Millennials so that they understand the power of philanthropy by creating a giving kit that illustrates a direct connection between their contributions and the impact it creates for the causes they support.

  • Creating giving programs that allow Millennials to contribute to a specific cause, rather than an institution or organization.

Source: 2015 Millennial Impact Report

Nurturing and Sustaining Influencers

Millennials grew up in the digital age. In The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine, the authors introduce the concept of the “free agent.” They define the free agent as “allies and influencers for organizations who can attract large numbers of new people to support various causes.” While some individuals work on behalf of a nonprofit, others are not connected to a particular organization.

Cause-driven organizations invest in resources to continuously enhance and nurture relationships. With each new generation, the approaches used to sustain and strengthen these relationships evolves, but the core principles remain constant. Nonprofits that are prioritizing continued engagement from this generation of volunteers and donors tend to be focused on:   

  • Getting to know free agents. The tools Millennials use to build and nurture their network are not as important as the influence they wield outside of the organization’s walls.

  • Providing opportunities for young people and free agents to explore and learn about issues, and sort out their feelings about them. Free agents need to challenge the thinking of organizations and advocates without the pressure of conforming to conventional wisdom or any particular agenda.

  • Acknowledging and welcoming newcomers.

  • Maintaining a welcoming environment. Even if a free agent is passionately involved with an organization for a period of time, it does not mean that they will be in the future. Similarly, nonprofits that keep an open door policy are being rewarded with free agents returning with their large networks and good energy in tow.

  • Letting free agents come and go. Free agents may not meet a specific need an organization has or asks of them, but that does not mean they aren’t participating and helping. Free agents want the ability to choose how they contribute to the cause.

  • Co-opting the ideas that free agents are surfacing, leveraging them, and embracing their originators without the need to “own” the free agent or the idea.

   Source: The Networked Nonprofit

Social Citizens has named Millennials the next Greatest Generation, and nonprofits are channeling the power of their networked, social approach to world problems. If you are interested in exploring new ways your organization can better engage and collaborate with this generation, contact us. From creating customized social media campaigns to repositioning your organization’s branding to prioritize your cause, Fulcrum Creatives has more than 14 years of experience helping organizations attract, nurture and sustain donor and volunteer engagement across multiple generations.


The Millennial Impact Project is a comprehensive and trusted study of the Millennial generation (born 1980–2000) and their involvement with causes. With more than 75,000 participants in their studies, The Millennial Impact Project has helped organizations, corporations and individuals everywhere understand the best approaches to cultivate interest and involvement with this generation. The Millennial Impact Report has become one of the largest annual surveys focused on the next generation to date.


Other Helpful Resources:

Goldman Sachs: Millennials Coming of Age

The Case Foundation: Social Citizens