Why Millennials don’t give says just as much as why they do.

Why Millennials don’t give says just as much as why they do.

It’s been pretty exciting to watch as the non-profit sector has taken a more vested interest in learning about this new generation of donors.  While there are several groups doing some great research about Millennials and their engagement with the non-profit sector, including Pew Charitable Trusts and 21/64, my personal favorites have been the annual reports released by the Case Foundation, called the Millennial Impact Report.  Each year, the report shines light on a different aspect of Millennial giving, volunteerism, involvement in the workplace, and social impact.  I’m the biggest fangirl of these reports, as they’ve been invaluable to me while I’ve created strategy for various young professional events and initiatives.  And not for nothing, they’ve also often provided crucial hard data that I’ve needed to defend the importance of engaging and investing in this generation now instead of later.

Now, I could spit out pages and pages of facts and figures that I think are interesting from these reports.  After all, the Millennial Impact Report has revealed tons of encouraging data about how often and how much Millennials give to non-profits in a given year.   But today, I want to highlight something that’s equally as important: why Millennials don’t give.  This data, gleaned from over 35,000 participants over a 5-year period, reveals a lot about what motivates Millennials to participate in a cause they believe in, and why non-profits should take heed and respond accordingly.

  • 84% of respondents are most likely to donate when they fully trust an organization
  • 90% of respondents would stop giving if they did not trust an organization
  • 78% of respondents are very likely to stop donating if they don’t know how their donation is making an impact
  • 73% of respondents are very likely to stop donating if the organizations asked for gifts too frequently
  • 72% of respondents are very likely to stop donating if they don’t feel a strong personal connection to the organization

I find these figures particularly compelling for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, it confirms that transparency is hugely important.  That’s not too hard to understand why:  we’re the first technologically fluent generation, growing up with the internet at our fingertips.  There’s virtually no question we can’t virtually get an answer to, and that makes our standards for transparency extremely high.  We want to see dollars translate into direct impact, which is different than generations of donors before us, and we want to be informed investors.  Millennial donors are demanding a level of transparency that non-profit organizations may not be used to, and will continue to challenge the non-profit sector as they become more active constituents.

Another big takeaway from this data is that personal connection is paramount.  Previous research from the Case Foundation has suggested that peer influence is a major driver for Millennials as they get involved in volunteerism and giving for a particular cause, but what seems to be just as important is a personal influence within the organization itself.  To expect that there will always be a staff person that inspires you to give at every organization you donate to may be a little lofty.  However, it’s a compelling argument for organizations to appoint a passionate staff champion, and it’s also a cautionary tale against relying too heavily on just email and social media engagement.

It’s easy to assume that these potential missteps in engaging Millennial donors falls to the non-profit sector to avoid.  I get that, but reading all of this information leads me to a slightly different conclusion.  The way I see it, the onus is really on Millennial donors, as much as it is the responsibility of the non-profits who want their support, to ensure that the lines of communication are fully open.  Sure, non-profits need to hold themselves to a higher standard of transparency, and to some extent I think that’s becoming more common.  But, Millennials, it’s on us too.  Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  1. Show up: If an organization is hosting a local event (for young professionals or otherwise), go to it and start talking to the staff and other donors. Of course, if you can get involved with a young professionals group, that’s ideal, but not all organizations are able to support a full-fledged program just yet.  Get to know what excites other people about the work the organization is doing.
  2. Meet with a staff person: It can’t be overstated how much fundraisers love when someone wants to get involved. Put yourself out there – email someone in the Development department and ask them to meet for coffee, or to refer you to someone working with young donors.  They’ll be thrilled you did.
  3. Do your homework: There are amazing resources online that are free and easy to use that can help you vet organizations. We’ll be talking about how to use these resources more in-depth in future posts, but you can start playing around with them now here and here.  Also, Twitter and Facebook can be a great resource, too.
  4. Know your worth: You’re a young, fresh face who wants to get involved.  If something is bothering you or if you feel you’re being asked to give too frequently, say something.  Chances are, a non-profit may not know how to pivot their “ask” to appeal to a younger crowd, and the feedback will help them.  They want you to be engaged, and no matter what you give, the fact that you participate at all is extremely important, so speak up.



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