There has been a lot of talk amongst business and government leaders about attracting the Gen Xers and Millennials. Younger people, as they have throughout history, are taking on different generational values than their elders. This opens the question of how to attract them as customers, employees, voters, residents, and taxpayers. Much of this analysis goes into exploring what makes them tick.
The nonprofit sector has put decidedly less research into attracting Gen Xers and Millennials as donors. Perhaps this is because it takes longer for a generation to acquire the resources for charitable donations than it does to make purchasing decisions, work, vote, and pay taxes. Recent data suggests that Gen Xers and Millennials are arriving at the stage of life where charitable contributions are becoming a significant part of their financial thinking, and their share of the total donations across America continues to accelerate.
Gen Xers and Millennials harbor very different expectations about charitable giving, as Michael Moody and Sharna Goldseker explain in Nonprofit Quarterly. Previous generations were more hands off. They preferred to write a check at the end of the year and let the nonprofit organization do the rest. Big donors of the old era may have liked a seat on the board or their name on the building, but they still wanted the nonprofit professionals to manage operations and worry about the details.
As Moody and Goldseker point out, younger donors prefer to roll up their sleeves and work in the building rather than have their name on it. If all an organization wants from them is a check, they feel alienated. They feel like the organization is treating them like ATM machines. They feel their voices are not heard. They feel their ideas are not valued. They feel they can make an impact beyond their monetary donations and expect nonprofits to provide that opportunity.
When organizations are accustomed to only contacting their donors at the annual renewal time, this can seem a bit overwhelming. Moody and Goldseker suggest several strategies. First, start now. The time when these younger donors become the largest donor segment is almost here. Second, work on creative ways for younger donors to give time and talent in addition to money. Nonprofits also need to offer more transparency and remain open to new ideas.
Perhaps most importantly of all, nonprofits must focus on building a relationship with donors. The worst thing for younger donors is feeling that their giving is transactional. To motivate them to help your organization, you need to make them feel personally involved.