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Monday, April 15, 2019

What’s Your Hashtag: How to Engage Younger Donors


Recently, I asked the CFO of a religious institution what the biggest issues facing his organization today are. He said: “Younger generations aren’t as connected to their faith. How do we engage our youth?”

It’s a familiar refrain. Nonprofits of every type and size are seeking strategies to connect with younger donors, members and constituents. The good news? Young people want to be engaged with you.

“These are the individuals who’ve grown up giving and believe strongly that they can [effect] change in the world,” writes Justin Wheeler, the CEO of nonprofit fundraising technology company Funraise. “But this can only happen if nonprofits meet this audience where they are.”

So what can you do to engage younger donors and constituents?

First, make sure you really know your base. Have you conducted a segmentation exercise? Whether you use an outside company for a branding and media assessment or you have a staff member or volunteer with the requisite skills, you need to know what percentages of your base fall into which demographic buckets.

Go to them where they hang out. For most nonprofits, meeting younger donors where they are requires a strong social media presence. When asked to rank influential channels, millennial donors say they are most inspired to give by messages they receive via social media. (For baby boomers, email messaging tops the list. And good old direct mail still inspires donations from 18% of this older segment.)

Hey, maybe your donor base or constituency responds best to traditional fundraising tactics such as snail mail and phone calls. The point is that you must understand who your donors and members are, and how they like to contribute.

Build individual relationships. Segmenting your base and targeting your messaging and marketing tactics is a great start. But at the end of the day, your young donors want individual relationships with your organization. Find ways to personalize your communications.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to send individual emails to everyone who takes a certain action, such as signing up for your email newsletter. This can be a short and simple template email. But if someone responds, make sure to continue the conversation with a personal response.

And remember that these personal communications should be about more than money. Young people want to feel connected to the organizations and causes they support, so give them ways to get involved through volunteering, crowdfunding or sharing your message through social media.

Have a story to tell. Across demographic lines, donors want to see the impact of their contributions. How is your nonprofit adding value? Consider inviting donors to your program location, where they can get down in the trenches with you to see those dollars at work. Or “invite” your audience in by sharing video of your activities on your website and through social media. Maybe you could even livestream an event. (Just keep privacy concerns in mind.)

The point is to constantly consider how you can better engage all of your communities. Because what worked with older generations probably won’t work with millennials. And now that Generation Z ―those born after 1996 ― is starting to give, the rules are likely to change even more.

So get to know your young donors, both as groups and as individuals, and meet them where they are with a message that resonates.

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