In the third of a five-part series this week about trends and research in philanthropy, we look inside the myth that NextGen donors aren’t engaged, and discuss how you can engage the next generation of donors.
While the media may categorize millennials as “lazy and entitled narcissists” and research shows that narcissism amongst young people is on the rise, Dr. Patricia Snell Herzog illustrates that millennials (born apx. 1981-1996) are, in fact, engaged with nonprofits and civil society. Snell Herzog and master’s student Julia Kohl show that millennials specifically and NextGen (millennials and Generation Z, born from 1997-2012) donors are committed to giving back, albeit in different ways than previously understood.
In the Stanford Social Innovation Review “Eight Myths of U.S. Philanthropy,” Snell Herzog explains that there is a significantly higher proportion of non-givers among people in their 20s and 30s than those 40 and older.
However, she also points out that millennials are motivated less by sustained commitment to particular organizations, and want to be more involved with specific causes and issues. Dr. Richard Settersten and Barbara Ray found that younger people are embracing a new model of activism on new media that enables more rapid and diffuse engagement.
In fact, articles and research show that millennials are making a difference. Hillary Hoffower shows that millennials are destigmatizing taboo topics, like financial and mental health, and are making a difference in politics and social issues.
Kohl explains that NextGen donors’ unique characteristics and habits can be understood from the perspective of the emerging adulthood life stage. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett identified that 18-29-year-olds tend to use this stage to focus on themselves, exploration, learning, instability, change, and freedom. Kohl added that millennials are “digital natives” and depend on social networks for support.
According to the Millennial Impact Report, a 10-year survey of more than 150,000 millennials and how they engage with causes, researchers found that millennials believe in the power of activism. They care about social issues rather than institutions, and use their collective voice to confront societal ill.
The report’s research found that millennials are “everyday changemakers,” and seek to “exhibit social good” in the actions they perform every day. They believe that all actions, whether big or small, matter. They engage with causes in multiple ways, including signing online petitions, posting or sharing on social media, participating in marches or rallies, donating, and changing how or in what ways they purchase items.
So, how can nonprofits engage with these changemakers? Kohl shares several tips for nonprofit practitioners to help them engage with millennials.
- Explain why a cause is important. Millennials want to know that their donation is making a difference, so focusing on gift impact is helpful.
- Consider different ways to engage millennials. They enjoy participating in events and young professional groups.
- Create social experiences for millennials, and then focus on how they can share information about their cause through a broad social network.
- Use technology, including social media and email, to engage with them and ask for donations.
- Continue asking donors, including NextGen donors, for donations in person. In one 2010 study, it was found that 39 percent of millennials give based on a personal ask, and 66 percent would respond to an in-person ask, especially if it were by friends or family members.
- Be transparent, and work on building relationships. NextGen donors are more likely to support an organization if it is trusted by family and friends.
In the book The Science of College: Navigating the First Year and Beyond, written by Snell Herzog, Casey Harris, Shauna Morimoto, Shane Barker, Jill Wheeler, A. Justin Barnum, and Terrance Boyd, they note that emerging adults can build social trust, a necessary precondition for volunteering and giving, in college. By engaging students in volunteering, job shadowing, and internship opportunities, nonprofits can connect with students and help build trust and relationships with potential donors and volunteers.
So, while the myth says that millennials are disengaged, NextGen donors are engaged with philanthropy and making a difference, and there are clear ways for fundraisers and other nonprofit practitioners to engage with these potential donors now and in the future.