Millennial Activism: Tapping Into a Network of Millennial Donors

by Emily Logan of Care2

Georgetown_MillennialsIMAGEThere seem to be an endless supply of news articles declaring millennials the “Me, me, me” generation, taking the common epithet associated with Baby Boomers and insisting millennials are more entitled, more selfish, more narcissistic and less mature than any previous generation.

But a look at the facts paints a much different story. As millennials (generally considered to be people born in the 1980s and ‘90s—a group I fit into the early part of) come of age, enter the workforce and find themselves with money to spare, they could become a big financial boon to nonprofits. Here are a few things you should know about your current—and future—donors:

They care…really!

Millennials tend to place less value on the acquisition of things, including the traditional settling down purchases of cars and houses, and more on the acquisition of experiences. When millennials do buy things, they care more about where they came from and what the companies that produce them are like, inspiring one of my favorite headlines from 2014: “Corporate social responsibility is millennials new religion.

This interest in social good extends to the workplace. Millennials are more interested in pursuing meaningful work that improves society than making droves of money. Take, for instance, the growing cadre of social entrepreneurs. Sure, the inability to get a cab in San Francisco is not one of the great social ills of our time, but Uber’s genesis was to fix a community problem. Other innovative companies, from small solar-powered generators that help backpackers charge their iPhones and off-grid communities in rural Africa get electricity to a website that tracks abandoned properties in Detroit, are focused on helping people and communities in need.

What does this all mean for a nonprofit? Millennials are exactly the group you want to connect with. People who are socially conscious and altruistic are primed to give to an organization that works on issues they care about. In many ways, from their purchase decisions to their career paths, millennials are walking the walk on their beliefs. In fact, according to a Case Foundation study on millennial impact, 87 percent made a donation to a nonprofit in 2013. Among older millennials (those over 30 who, being further along in their careers, are more likely to have disposable income), a whopping 91 percent donated.

They’re hyper-networked.

Millennials aren’t just taking quizzes and watching cat videos online. According to a 2013 Pew Research survey, they’re using social networks for political engagement too. Sixty percent of American adults have participated in civic dialogue on social media, from such low-level engagement as following a political figure or liking a post about political and social issues to advocating for a cause. Among all younger millennials (age 18-24), two-thirds used social media for political engagement.

Not only are millennials using social media more often around social and political causes, but engaging them has a massive multiplying factor. In 2014, the average 18-24 year-old Facebook user had 649 friends. Those 25-43 (which, admittedly, includes some Gen-Xer’s) had 360. Compare those numbers to Baby Boomers, who have an average of fewer than 130 friends.  This means that for every millennial you engage on social media, you reach exponentially more people through their spiraling networks.

The Case Foundation found that millennials are influenced by the decisions of their peers, meaning if you get one millennial to share your work, that vouching makes it more likely that others will engage, too. Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last summer? Tapping into the power of social media networks, the ALS Foundation raised $115 million. Not all fundraising campaigns will reach that viral status, but the potential is too huge to ignore.

They do everything online—even give.

It’s not news that many physical services and systems are moving online, and donor engagement is no exception. But this is even more true among younger people. NTEN Benchmarks found that younger people are not only engaging with nonprofits online more than older generations, they’re actually connecting through digital means more often than they’re receiving phone calls from nonprofits and, for some online modes, as often as they’re receiving paper mail. While most donors use an organization’s website to learn more about them, millennials actually turn to Twitter, text and mobile more often.

Blackbaud has found that online giving across all generations is on the rise. But among millennials (or Gen Y as they call them), nearly half give online and more than 60 percent would give via mobile if they had the option. Among older generations, fewer than half would consider a mobile donation.

This all makes a compelling argument for nonprofits to invest in a good online giving system and to beef up outreach to donors through email, social media and other online systems. Sweetening the deal, online outreach is cheaper than a direct mail campaign. I wouldn’t say goodbye to stamps and envelope-stuffing yet, but online engagement provides a low-cost way to continually touch donors and refine the best ways to engage them financially (and otherwise) with your organization.

They’re growing.

Just last month, millennials surpassed Generation X as the largest generation represented in the U.S. workforce. While we’ll still likely be the butt of more generational “kids these days” laments for awhile, the trends we’re seeing in how this generation views and engages with the world will only magnify in the coming years. The more nonprofits can do now to engage millennial donors online, the more likely they are to catch the wave of change, rather than get left behind.

Emily Logan is Director of Acquisition and Retention at Care2, where her team works with member activists to spread the word about their petitions on ThePetitionSite, builds petition campaigns into full-scale organizing efforts, and helps keep current Care2 members happy and engaged. In her time at Care2 she has also worked extensively with hundreds of nonprofit organizations to help recruit activists and donors and build out their online strategies. Emily has a B.S. in journalism and a B.A. in music from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and currently lives in rainy Portland, Oregon with her cat, Ostrich.