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Your Ticket to Winning Over the Millennial Donor

The Plenty Team
July 13, 2016

When I started working in the development space, I was surprised and intrigued by the volume of conversations in fundraising circles – both on and offline – that touched on demystifying the millennial donor. We millennials are not such a fickle breed, I thought, but years later, there is still no consensus on millennial engagement strategies – in large part because ambiguity remains as to what millennials “are.” While some notions are consistent (e.g., millennials are more likely to job-hop, seek out diversity, and are less likely to trust authority), new claims pop up daily. Just today I read an article claiming that millennials have weaker handshakes than the previous generation.

The sheer volume of millennial literature necessitates a careful curation of sources of information on millennial engagement and preferences. One source I’ve come to trust is the Millennial Impact Project, whose annual survey this year focused on millennial philanthropic activities through the lens of an election year.

Although the full survey won’t be released for a few months, their initial findings have implications that will impact your fundraising strategy as your team starts to think about peak event season, end of year campaigns, and #GivingTuesday:

Most millennials believe people like them can have an impact in the United States...

67% of survey respondents responded that they believed they could have a “moderate” or “big” impact in the country; only 5% of respondents reported that they would have “no impact at all.” Because millennials appear to be confident in their influence, the onus is off of your organization to empower millennials to believe in their capacity to create change – but that leaves your recruitment and marketing messages to inspire and convey impact. 

…but the majority have little or no trust that the government will do what is right. 

Regardless of whether or not your organization is governmental, this finding is relevant for the entire sector – particularly for organizations with long-established histories, more traditional infrastructures, and a large national presence. Generally speaking, larger institutions carry the burden of stigmas associated with the government or any entity that has been on the losing end of watchdog reports of ineffective governance, outdated business practices, or less measurable impact.

The good news, however, is that these stigmas can be overcome (albeit on a case-by-case basis) through transparency and accountability; namely, through clear impact statements and open communications with your constituents. That means addressing tough questions head on, engaging in a dialogue on social media and other outlets, and providing honest reasons for the decisions your organization makes strategically and programmatically. Once you gain your millennial constituents’ trust, they’ll lean in to your volunteer, fundraising, and advocacy programs as the lever for moving the needle in their cause areas of choice. 


In the last month, the majority of millennials signed a petition for an issue they cared about… 

You don’t have to be Planned Parenthood or Black Lives Matter to engage a passionate and loyal millennial audience, but you do have to understand why those organizations’ advocacy programs have been sticky in recent years. Ask yourself: Does your organization stay up to speed on legislative or news events that impact your mission? Do your communications convey a sense of urgency? Is your mission statement tied to an actionable, specific, and relevant outcome? Are you tapping in to the supporters most likely to care about that outcome? Do you leverage those supporters’ skills and networks to do some of your work for you?

…but only about a half of millennials volunteered for or donated to causes affiliated with a social issue they cared about.

It’s tempting to dismiss lackluster participation in donations or volunteering as low purchasing power, or just another manifestation of “slacktivism,” but that assumption is neither proven nor going to help you acquire more millennial donors and fundraisers.

First, signing a petition and volunteering or making a donation are not equal in the eyes of the millennial constituent life cycle. A petition is a more appropriate first touch point, whereas volunteering or making a gift should be leveraged only when you have cultivated a deeper relationship with your constituent. These actions should not be measured against one another, but used in concert as you develop your engagement strategy.

Second, think beyond finances for a moment and consider the user experience of someone signing a petition versus making a donation. How must a donor navigate a form, compared to a petitioner? Is the ease of use equal? Both should be visually engaging, intuitive, and as light on fields as possible (but robust enough to source the data you need for analytics & reporting). Your millennial audiences are sensitive to these characteristics.

If this presidential year has taught us anything, it’s that millennial audiences are as primed as ever to mobilize behind a cause, an image, and a tagline that they care about – and that you don’t need a young, hip, new icon in order to galvanize massive support (looking at you, Bernie Sanders). A blended approach of tried-and-true fundraising strategies with an eye toward millennial preferences will go far to realize the engagement you’re hoping for and set you up for long-lasting relationships with this sought-after demographic.

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