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Four Mobile Messaging Apps For Millennial Fundraising Success

The Plenty Team
February 11, 2015

If the mainstream media were your FM dial, millennials would be the band blaring at you from every station, no matter how many times you press the seek button. We get it – you’re tired of hearing about millennial networks and the how’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s of their communications – and you probably want to stop listening. But no matter how much you love to hate the millennial media song, it’s topping the charts, and you owe it to your organization to know the words.

Millennials Mean Business
We’ve all come home to a family gathering at one point or another to realize that one of our little nieces or cousins (who was – we swear - just watching Barney episodes in the living room) has suddenly grown ten inches and gotten a driver’s license. Young people have a knack for growing into relevance overnight. 

And just like your niece or cousin, the millennial generation, too, has grown up. This year, the 18-34 year old segment of the population will surpass the number of baby boomers. By 2020, millennials will wield $1.4 trillion in purchasing power. And they’re eager to donate it to your cause.

Nearly half of millennials believe that involvement in community, social, and civic issues is either “personal responsibility” or the “right thing to do,” versus 39% of Gen X’ers and 41% of baby boomers. 86% of millennials followed through on those sentiments, donating time, money, or other resources to philanthropic causes in the last two years. 

A Captive Audience
Purchasing power, peer influence, and philanthropic tendency are a potent combination; for that reason, and more, millennials simply can’t be ignored. So, how to gain influence and cultivate relationships with the most misunderstood and underutilized generation? In short, go mobile.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) content represents 30% of millennials’ daily media time, more than Internet browsing and TV watching. Nearly three-fourths of millennials prioritize social networking above other media. The transition away from the TV and PC toward mobile P2P channels represents a distrust of media conglomerates, desire for creativity, and need for speed. According to a recent IPSOS social influence study, it is at the intersection of these three needs – time, trust, and memorability — that social influence is gained.

Both social media and mobile messaging platforms allow for memorable, timely communications. Research indicates, however, that millennial P2P platform users trust conversations with friends and family, peer reviews, and messaging applications even more than traditional social media channels.


(Ipsos MediaCT, “Social Influence: Marketing’s New Frontier,” March 2014. Available for download.)

For that reason, there’s never been a better time to explore the trends, implications, and applications of mobile messaging, social media’s lesser-known counterpart. An understanding of the United States’ four most popular mobile messaging apps will get you in the door with the next generation of fundraisers.

Facebook Messenger

Trends: Yes, Facebook is still a force in the social media space. Despite doomsday predictions for the site, recent numbers indicate that the millennial active user base actually grew by 3% in 2014. The April 2014 rollout of Facebook’s Messenger function as a separate app profoundly changed the internal momentum of the social media giant. 500 million people worldwide now use the Messenger application each month to communicate with their Facebook friends (it’s the most popular mobile messaging app in the U.S., with 66.9 million unique users). Messenger’s overall reach increased by 50% between 2013 and 2014, while the flagship app’s reach dropped by 10% over the same period.

What does Messenger have that Facebook doesn’t? In short, privacy and speed. The app is fast, ad-free (for now), and devoid of Aunt May’s incessant #TBT posts of embarrassing Halloween costumes from 1991.

Implications: This changing of the guard within Facebook is yet another indication that the world is going mobile. 80% of Facebook users now access the site from mobile devices. At minimum, your organization must be mindful of creating advertisements and communications that work for Facebook (or any application) on both PCs and smartphones.

Applications: Your organization has a compelling, worthwhile story to tell - but you have to differentiate yourself from the newsfeed white noise in order to achieve fundraising success. Doing so requires visual, authentic, mission-focused communications. Scrolls last only a few seconds - make those seconds matter.

If you choose to go the Facebook Messenger route, tread carefully as you fill in the “to” field. Phone numbers aren’t prerequisites for Messenger access, so be certain that you’ve segmented your communications appropriately so as not to catch your constituents off-guard. 


Trends: In the competitive mobile messaging market, WhatsApp has more users than any other – 700 million worldwide, and growing fast (though slower to catch on in North America). The global instant messaging service for text, photo, and video has displaced SMS messaging for many international customers who would rather pay the 99-cent annual WhatsApp subscription than roaming charges from their wireless carrier. Globally, one in four teenagers use WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is arguably the most authentic mobile messaging channel. First, it’s ad-free. Brian Acton, the app’s founder, declared “No ads! No games! No gimmicks!” the company mantra. Second, the app tunes into the people your constituents trust the most: contacts in their phonebook. Unlike Facebook Messenger, you must have the phone number of the contact you’re trying to reach through WhatsApp in order to get in touch.

Implications: Low-cost doesn’t have to compromise authenticity or success.

Applications: You’re probably wondering, “How can I leverage a channel without ads?” Well, you can use it to share blog posts, provide news and updates, and receive feedback from millennial constituents. If you have phone numbers of event attendees, you can invite them to group messages where they can recap experiences with one another.

Millennials will be more inclined to tune in precisely because you’re using this “hot” mobile messaging channel, free of ads and the baggage associated with the bad press of Facebook’s privacy and ad issues.


Trends: The app most commonly equated with virtual interviews and Mother’s Day calls from students away at school still has a presence in the mobile messaging market – to the tune of 17% globally. Over 300 million users contribute to the two billion minutes of conversation Skype facilitates every day. The Microsoft product is, admittedly, well suited for the PC of a telecommuting Gen Y’er or baby boomer, but still pulls in 28% of business from consumers 18-24. Skype’s staying power (despite its “old school” reputation) stems from technology suited to longer, often international calls.  It could be said that Skype succeeds in the impossible - capturing teenagers’ attention - with an average of 40 minutes per call.

Implications: Although Skype has rolled out a few new tricks to keep up with trends in mobile communications (like the Qik video messaging app), its bread and butter – relationship building from a distance – is invaluable. We can’t say enough about the importance of storytelling in fundraising, and Skype does it well.

Applications: Consider utilizing Skype to virtually connect stakeholders and constituents to the communities their dollars serve. Apart from witnessing change in person, there’s no better way to bring mission impact to life.


Trends: 2014’s fastest growing social media app saw a boost of 57% over the calendar year. Though global usage hovers at 15%, over a third of teens in the UK, Sweden, and the USA are snapping each other; overall, over 80% of Snapchat’s users are under 25. Snapchatters swap disappearing photos and videos (for free) at a rate of 700 million snaps a day. Because messages are text-limited (to 31 characters) and live within Snapchat for mere seconds, the app encourages creativity and spontaneity between individuals or groups of friends.

There’s more to Snapchat than selfie commerce. Snapcash, a partnership with Square that launched in November 2014, allows Snapchat users to easily transfer money to each other without having to sign up for (yet another) third-party application. Currently, the feature is available only for United States users over 18 with Visa or Mastercard account.

Snapchat’s newest feature, Discover, a platform for content from popular brands like ESPN, CNN, and Vice, preserves the app’s ephemeral vibe while allowing major players in news, sports and entertainment an opportunity to capture the attention of the 13-24 demographic. 

Implications: Snapchat understands something critical about leveraging social networks - don’t try building new networks when you can map existing ones. The Snapcash launch filled a need both for the corporation (increased access to user information, expanded utilization of the app) and for the user (an easy way to trade with friends without adding another icon to their home screen). Both your organization and constituents will benefit from new programs that roll into existing accounts, pages, and applications.

Applications: Snapchat skews young on the millennial scale and provides little time to convey your mission to first-timers. If you don’t already have constituents under 25 in your portfolio, consider cultivating those relationships through your existing outlets first. Once you’ve established a following, get creative! Ask constituents to snap selfies with #yourorganizationscleverhashtag and send them to their friends to fundraise for your cause. With Snapcash, donors can send cash directly to your organization’s account.

Mobile messaging increases the likelihood that your organization will gain social influence among millennial networks, a crucial piece to achiveing fundraising success. With the variety of channels in the mobile messaging toolkit (and the speed with which young people change them), it’s important to focus your organization’s time and energy on the applications that best suit your constituents.  Whether you’re snapping six-second selfies or Skyping with a clinic halfway around the world, lead with your mission and you’ll win with millennials.

How you communicate with your fundraisers is only one piece of the peer-to-peer fundraising puzzle. Download our free Seven Success Factors e-book, which highlights all seven of the components critical to achieving P2P fundraising success.

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