5 Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Millennial Involvement

By Matthew Blank

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published as “The Top Five Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Millennial Involvement” in the Friedman LLP Nonprofit Advisor newsletter on March 31, 2017. The article is reprinted by NYSAE with permission from Friedman LLP.]

Every nonprofit board in America has had a conversation similar to this at least once:

-Board Member #1 – “We have to get more young people involved in our organization.”

-Board Member #2 – “I agree; their money is important to our future.”

-Board Member #3 – “My neighbor is a millennial and she tells me we should get on SnapChat.”

-Board Member #4 – “What exactly is a millennial? And tell me about this SnapChat thing.”

Nonprofits are always looking for unique ways to attract millennials and to engage this dynamic group in accomplishing their mission. Some organizations are incredibly strategic at executing this initiative, while others miss the mark. Though there is no universal definition for the millennial, they are typically born between 1982 and 2000. This influential group is a powerful asset to businesses for the following reasons:

They will control purchasing power. Millennials will soon be the largest living group and have already surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce in 2015 (according to the Pew Research Center analysis of US Census Bureau data).

What millennials choose to purchase. Millennials would rather create new experiences than purchase goods.

How they consume, share and produce information. Most millennials are digital natives, having grown up with the internet and smart phones.

Nonprofits must consider the characteristics and behaviors of millennials and adapt to them in order to engage and involve this important group. This article will discuss tips to identify and target millennials to help your nonprofit succeed.

1. Who is your ideal millennial and how can they help you?

A great way to increase millennial involvement is by micro-targeting them. First, consider who you want to specifically target and what you want to achieve. Instead of strategizing for ALL millennials, sub-divide them into the following groups based on age, level of influence, goals and income.

A. Ages 18-22 – This group is most likely still in college, spends a lot of their time on social media, doesn’t have much disposable income, seeks to connect with others their age; are very easily influenced and have the most time to volunteer. Target this group if your goals are to increase volunteer support and your social media presence.

B. Ages 23-28 – This group is newer to the work force, spends a lot of their time on social media; are most likely to know of a nonprofit or two that their friends support; are actively seeking to grow their network to build their career (or personal relationships); and would much rather spend their time enjoying experiences than purchasing things. This group tends to blend their charitable actions through a combination of volunteering, happy hours (their favorite), and rallying their co-workers to support specific events. Target this group to leverage their time and ambition and to grow your network.

C. Ages 29- 34 – This group is mostly made up of professionals who are growing their families, and are involved within committees or boards; have disposable income and don’t have much free time. This group is vital to target for future board members because they have the desire to give back in a more impactful way. They most likely have the means to financially support a nonprofit and have a network of people who can do the same.

2. How do you stand out from the noise and what makes your organization unique to them?

Next, think about your nonprofit’s message: does it create actionable change? Prior to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALSA (Amyotrophic Laterals Sclerosis Association) was struggling to find new donors and capital to fund research. The popularity of the social media sensation enabled the ALSA to break down many barriers and boost their donations from $23.5 million in 2013, to $128 million in 2014. Now the question is: How can you create your own version of that success? Millennials are bombarded with more content than ever and it’s no secret that to break through that noise you have to hit them where they feel it-- in their heart. Today, video is a key factor in creating that emotional appeal. When was the last time you produced one? Does your mission video appeal to this audience? Your video strategy has to be unique, easily-edited, succinct, and most important: authentic.

3. How are you staying on top of the trends and infusing them into your plan?

We live in the golden age of information, with social media as the preferred medium amongst millennials. Leadership should make it a daily routine to check out the latest internet trends. Sometimes a trend will present itself within hours of the actual occurrence. Take Ken Bone for example. Bone was simply an undecided voter and attendee of the 2nd presidential debate. He chose to wear a bright red sweater and ask the candidates a very charming question. Within 20 minutes, he was trending on twitter. Seemingly overnight, he was an internet sensation among millennials. You’re probably thinking to yourself, how do I incorporate that into my strategy? Using his trending hashtag and linking it to your social media content that day, would have been a good strategy to increase your digital viewership amongst millennials. By keeping up with the trends on twitter and on YouTube, you’ll be able to see what content the millennial audience is consuming and shape yours accordingly.

4. How does leadership engage your millennial staff?

Don’t be so externally focused that you lose sight of those inside your organization. Some of the most successful millennial engagement programs have come from leadership simply sitting down with their millennial employees and asking them what’s new in their world. Consider launching a monthly 1-hour meeting with the younger staff members. This creates the opportunity to listen to their insights and gives them the ability to champion an initiative for the organization. It benefits the organization two-fold: first, it allows leadership to shape campaigns around the input of the very audience they want to target and it empowers the younger staff to feel their own impact.

5. How does your board succession plan interface with your millennial engagement plan?

Let’s face it; millennials want to have a seat at the adult table. A great way to increase your millennial engagement is to offer them a seat on the board. Encourage them to attend and participate in the meetings. Another way to engage them is through the largest event or fundraiser of the year that your organization hosts. Consider millennial pricing; while most millennials cannot afford the $1000 ticket for a seat at the table, they can afford your costs per head. This exposes the organization to a new audience, as well as adding life to the party.

Millennials don’t want to just donate; cultivate your young donors, give them a voice, an objective and a variety of additional ways to participate. Overall, there is no magic formula for attracting millennials to your organization; rather it’s a perfect blend of science and art. To successfully engage your targeted millennial audience, start by asking the right questions, create a dialogue, empower your internal staff, listen to your digital surroundings and be authentic in your approach. The truth is, by creating an organic relationship with the future leadership of society, we all are helping each other to grow and reach new heights.

Matthew Blank is the Business Development Officer at Friedman LLP. The original article and his contact information appears at http://www.friedmanllp.com/insights/the-top-five-ways-nonprofits-can-increase-millennial-involvement