Engaging the next generation of donors is a challenge for all nonprofit organizations. What worked yesterday may not necessarily work tomorrow, and nonprofits are looking at new ways that they can achieve their fundraising goals. At a recent event hosted by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Aronson LLC, a panel of nonprofit professionals shared their insight and offered attendees practical advice on fundraising and crowdsourcing strategies.
1. What drives “Next Gen” donors?
Studies by organizations like the Johnson Center and the Millennial Impact Project demonstrate that today’s generation of givers is strongly driven by personal values. Wealthy young donors are not necessarily giving to the same organizations that their parents have supported; rather, they are giving their sizeable contributions to organizations that reflect their own beliefs.
These same studies show that the majority of next gen donors want to become involved first before donating. Network Developer Daria Teutonico from the Council on Foundations says, “If volunteers have a positive experience with your organization and feel that you are making a positive change in the community, they are going to spread your message through social media.”
More than ever before, the concept of connectivity is playing a critical role in fundraising. Social media isn’t just a way for charitable organizations to spread the word about their mission – people who are passionate about that mission will be an ambassador for your cause on their Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and by text and email. It starts a relationship that will keep growing, building and multiplying for years to come.
2. How important are younger donors to my organization?
At present, many organizations say that donors under 30 are still a very small part of their donor base but a large part of their outreach efforts since their donations are likely to increase with time.
Brandi Yee, Chief Program Officer at ACT for Alexandria, stresses that your fundraising efforts should be multifaceted in order to address the Millennial donors as well as those in the 40-60 age range. She notes that women are a particularly important part of the equation as they are more likely to engage with causes, regardless of any age.
3. What are specific tactics I can use to engage next gen donors?
The panelists all agree that one of the most effective ways to earn continued donor loyalty is by training your board, staff and volunteers to do the asking for you, to communicate to their network how they feel about your organization.
Individual Crowdsourcing | Sites like Razoo allow virtually anybody to get into the crowdsourcing game. Says Kristin Foti, Chief Development Officer for Bread for the City, “People can hit their laptops at two in the morning and instantly create an individual campaign to solicit funds for their favorite charity on their own or on behalf of their company. They then share that drive across their entire network of Facebook friends, email acquaintances and Twitter followers.”
Change.org | Foti notes that Bread for the City has had success with sponsored petitions that allow potential donors to connect with organizations working on the issues they’re passionate about.
AmazonSmile | AmazonSmile is a program that provides a small source of passive income for your 501(c)(3) organization. Shoppers can visit smile.amazon.com and select millions of products that are eligible for the program and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase to the registered charity of their choice.
Social Media Drives | Sites like tinyGive, GoodWorld, and NationBuilder are making the act of personal philanthropy a public event. Corporations, nonprofits and individuals who are passionate about a cause can sign up to raise money for a specific organization and easily solicit their friends and contacts to join them in their efforts through social media.
Local Approach | People are connected to their neighborhood and care about the things that are important to that community. Making a location-based emotional appeal to your local constituents can be a great way to effectively target donors who will continue to engage and give.
4. We need less “stuff” and more money. How do we communicate that to our younger donors?
As any nonprofit professional knows, getting people to drop off their old cans of food and dust-collecting exercise equipment is easy, but soliciting actual dollars is a far greater challenge. Foti says that the solution might be simpler than you think. “You just have to find ways to present the argument in a logical, easily understandable way. For example, we created an infographic that demonstrates how a donation of one can of food is just one can of food – but a dollar donation allows us to buy five cans of food. Our buying power is typically greater than that of the average consumer and people understand that if you communicate it effectively.”
Yee says that the key is learning how to tell your story. “Obviously you can’t just come out and say, ‘Give us money so we can pay our staff.’ You have to find out what’s important to your donors and then talk to them about how your staff is helping your organization address that issue.”
Foti urges nonprofits to be direct, “Don’t be afraid to turn down what you don’t need and ask for what you do need.”
5. How do we encourage donors to continue to support your organization after the first gift?
“You have to keep asking,” says Foti. Once you’ve gotten that initial interest, you have to be diligent about follow-up. Interestingly, she notes, the way they initially engage with you is typically the way they will also want to deal with you in the future. If they gave you money through an online drive, that will be the easiest way to connect with them again moving forward.
Teutonico suggests that, while their money is important, these connected young people bring much more to the table. “Their time, talent and ties are equally as important as their ‘treasure.’ They understand the value of their network and want you to appreciate that contribution.”
Yee agrees and stresses the importance of acknowledging their participation or their gifts, particularly the sizeable ones. “Don’t just send the standard form letter,” she says. “Short, handwritten notes go a long way.” Also consider more creative options. If you are a children’s charity, for example, snap a picture of some of the kids holding up a thank you sign with the donor’s name on it.
Regardless of size, all organizations must address the needs and desires of this new generation of donors. Be willing to listen to what people want and adapt your strategies to enable them to give you their passionate support. At the very least, all organizations should make sure that they have a responsive website that works across all mobile devices and a well-designed donations page that makes it easy for people to give whenever the urge strikes. Take your cues from the for-profit world when it comes to communicating with your volunteers. Create brand ambassadors who will put their best foot forward on behalf of your organization!