The audience of 77 million millennial donors (“Gen Y”) is a sleeping giant for major nonprofits. Conventional fundraising strategies focus primarily on acquiring and retaining gifts from Gen X and Boomer audiences using direct response tactics. In times when nonprofits are losing 103 donors for every 100 donors gained we need to rethink conventional wisdom or throw it out completely.

While it is true that millennials give to fewer causes and donate fewer total dollars annually about a third as much as Boomers there is valuable fundraising insight a step beyond the summary statistics. For example, when millennials do engage with nonprofits, it’s on a deeper, more connected, intellectually curious level. Is this not the level of donor engagement that most organizations dream of?

While millennials continue to mature into a fundraising supergroup, let’s take a closer look at how they support causes today, keeping an eye on ways to retain and grow support from all donors. We will look at three breakout successes in the world of grassroots philanthropy. The underlying appeal holds valuable lessons for direct response managers.

First, the surprising facts about how millennials support nonprofits

  • 75 percent made a donation to a charity, 71 percent raised money for one, and 57 percent volunteered “more than any other generation,” according to a 2011 Nielsen study.
  • Of the 87 percent of millennials surveyed who donated, more than half gave over $100, according to a 2014 Case Foundation study.
  • They are “philanthropists…with more active and intellectual engagement in the causes they care about,” according to Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, founder and chairman of The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Learnings for fundraisers extend beyond the best tactics to engage the millennial audience. It is really about how to reboot overall fundraising effectiveness by gleaning insight from the how and why  not just the dollars and cents behind grassroots giving trends.

The spark that engages future donors probably will not originate on your nonprofit’s platform

The future of philanthropy is shaping up to be a network of grassroots platforms started by millennials for millennials. Like their creators, the platforms are highly social and action-oriented. Industry performance stats that fundraisers consume hungrily each quarter typically summarize only transactions captured by transactional databases. Increasingly, millennials are contributing time, passion, money, and “stuff” through an ever-growing variety of channels.

Fast Company calls Catchafire the “eHarmony of volunteering.” Catchafire’s CEO calls it “a matchmaking service between talent and purpose.” The site is founded on the principle that volunteering can have more impact when it is well structured and valuable to both the organization and the individual. Volunteers on Catchafire are not stacking soup cans. They are matching their professional expertise with tactical needs within nonprofits in order to increase the impact of their time.

Relevance to direct response fundraisers: Approaching giving as a two-way transaction between donors and nonprofits is a new way of engaging donors from all demographic cohorts. Take a hard look at how openly your organization supports this kind of “matchmaking” between donor passion points, funding needs, and the new role volunteerism can play.
RYOT is a young news site, media agency, filmmaking house, and more. Every news story features a “take action” button connected directly to a nonprofit’s website, donation form, or to RYOT’s page. The Crowdrise campaigns alone have raised over $483,000. Other impact comes in the form of direct traffic to nonprofits’ websites and giving pages.

Relevance to direct response fundraisers: Donors overlap with a broader audience of curious news-seekers hungry for highly visual coverage of real-time issues. RYOT puts content first, then offers readers the opportunity to become donors, without hitting them over the head for a gift. This site speaks to a great truth in fundraising. People do not go in search of donation opportunities. They go in search of news, information, and entertainment. Fundraising that looks more like entertaining news has real staying power.
The social change site that asks millennials to “help make the world suck less” is partnering up with Yahoo to engage millennial donors in the mobile space. Yahoo just pledged up to $1 million to for searches made on its mobile platform, with sage advice for charities attached: The mobile-first approach of the campaign suggests that more charitable brands may find the right communication vehicles for driving donations on smartphones, especially if they seek to target millennial consumers.”

Relevance to direct response fundraisers: A key factor in this partnership is that millennials do not have to donate they just need to search on Yahoo’s mobile platform to drive revenue to the nonprofit. This shows that a philanthropic platform can convert action and engagement into dollars from a third party. In this case, a mobile search giant is eager to increase its exposure with millennials. How can your nonprofit organization rethink the lines between program, fundraising, and corporate support?

Three takeaways to grow engagement, now

The philanthropic platforms “by millennials for millennials” are cause-forward places where the charitable brand is present but takes a back seat to the cause and impact itself.  

Millennials’ giving behavior challenges nonprofits to produce content that makes the impact of giving more real. Authentic content appeals to younger donors and leads to deeper connections with all donors, including would-be corporate sponsors, Boomers, and major gift prospects.

To get down to specific tactics, let’s review the three main donor retention take-aways from AFP’s 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Report:

  1. Acknowledge gifts meaningfully and promptly
  2. Give donors opportunities to donate to specific programs
  3. Provide donors with reports about what their gifts accomplished

Innovairre offers a set of tools for nonprofits to embed these retention principles into existing fundraising approaches. We call the program Donor2

Donor2 gives organizations a framework to engage with donors in multiple channels from the very onset of the philanthropic relationship.

Solution 1: Say “thank you” to every donor, immediately, personally, and in multiple channels. (Download info sheet.)

Why it matters: Speed and personalization are massive loyalty drivers. The clock starts in the very first hours and days following a donation. Innovairre’s turnkey acknowledgment solution ensures all donors receive a handwritten gift acknowledgment through the mail, plus a coordinated digital eReceipt in their inbox. Setup is easy, and the ROI is almost immediate.

Solution 2: Manage donors’ program-specific giving preferences with the Innovairre MC database. (Download info sheet.)

Why it matters: Outdated database software is a huge barrier to giving donors personalized giving options. Innovairre MC is the multichannel donor database solution that empowers nonprofits to easily manage multiple giving tracks and resulting revenue streams. Increase the value that your organization places on volunteerism, events, auctions, and mobile giving with a suite of integrated, web-based management tools.   

Solution 3: Simply asking again and again is not a retention booster. Show donors the impact of their support with a sequence of low-cost, multichannel, proof-of-impact communications. (Download info sheet.)

Why it matters: According to the latest AFP Study donor retention efforts need a boost from greater impact transparency. Organizations are chronically underinvesting in communications that provide this proof-of-impact. Donor2 combines digitally-personalized direct mail, email, personalized video, and social media targeting. Nonprofits can now reach every donor with more compelling content with less investment.

Today’s grassroots philanthropic successes are powered by outstanding, authentic donor engagement. Contact us to learn more about our Donor2 retention roadmap, discuss the future of fundraising, or request a demonstration of Innovairre MC the next generation fundraising platform that holds the key to personalizing donor relationships in a multichannel world.

Adam Freedgood is a retention and sustainable marketing expert and a guest contributor to Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. Connect with us at Subscribe to our newsletter here, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.