Tips for turning your organization into a Millennial magnet

“Something that helps me is having the ability to do online donations. . . My mom thinks I’m crazy, but I don’t do business with people who I can’t pay online. I rarely have checks, stamps, or envelopes.”

So wrote the lone 30-something member of an otherwise Boomer (and older) dominated board on which I serve.

I was still mulling over her message when the 2013 Millennial Impact Report popped up in my email in-box. The third in an ongoing series funded by the Case Foundation, this year’s report provides a blueprint for building “a comprehensive Millennial engagement platform that invites them to participate in the cause and maximize their involvement.”

As I’ve written here and here, unless you’re drawing Millennials into your donor and volunteer mix (including as board members), you’re putting the organization’s future at risk. Folks in their 20s and 30s may not be able to give much in the immediate, but provide them reasons to stick with your organization and watch their gifts and involvement grow over time.


The 2013 Millennial Impact Report provides a 34-page answer to the question, complete with infographics and video interviews with the target audience. The following are three pointers from the report that I’m taking to heart — and which I hope will encourage you to read the full text for yourself.

1. To reach Millennials, get online. The board member’s quote with which I began this post hits the nail on the head. Forget direct mail and phoning programs. Forget stamps, envelopes, and checks. According to the report:

The overwhelming majority—a combined 84%—gave or wants to give via website, while giving in person came in a distant second at 48%. Ranked last with 11% was giving over the phone, which linked directly to Millennials’ biggest giving-related pet peeve: receiving telemarketing calls (69%). This aligns with this generation’s inclination to communicate digitally via text, email or social media rather than on the phone.

2. To reach Millennials, show them that their support (money and time) matters. More than 60 percent of the 2013 respondents said they like it most when nonprofits shared stories about successful projects or the people they help. “Millennials value authenticity, variety, and actionable information. True community management . . . creates an honest, friendly environment where followers are treated not as ATM machines, but as collaborators.”

3. To reach Millennials, create multiple methods for getting involved. The greater the number of meaningful connection points with the organization, the greater the number of helpers. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that. “The ultimate goal—the pinnacle of a Millennial engagement strategy—is to provide leadership, service, and truly transformational opportunities for Millennials to affect the direction and impact of the organization.”

If the pointers sound familiar, your hearing is spot on. These three – relationship, feedback, and opportunities for meaningful participation — are what it takes to pull in donors of any age.

Oh sure, there are significant generational differences in communication and participation preferences. But don’t worry that you’ll lose your Boomer base by catering to donors half their age. Quoting again from the impact report, “As you adjust your approach for one audience, you get better, faster, and more effective overall, transforming your organization from the inside out.”

So go ahead. Turn your organization into a Millennial magnet and see who else you attract.


  1. Dan Custer says:

    Thank you for your post! To your point #1 about getting online, I was wondering if you have any suggestions for phonathon programs. Is there a role for phonathon in soliciting younger alumni?

    • From everything I hear and read, a phoning program is not effective in reaching younger alums. They don’t have land line phones and they resent receiving solicitation calls on their mobile phones (as do all people). What are you hearing from your counterparts at other colleges and universities? What are development offices testing as a replacement for phoning programs? Do you see more younger alums giving online? How do they respond to email campaigns? I think I see a master’s thesis or capstone paper in this topic.

      • Dan Custer says:

        I already have my master’s thesis started, so it’s too late to change course! In terms of benchmarking, I can’t answer your question with hard numbers. I know that in general, recent alumni giving has been a struggle at Messiah and across the board. I looked specifically at our phonathon numbers for the past two years among our alumni categories (recent [less than 10 years out], general [10-50 years out], non-grads, and golden grads [50+ years out]). I tried to copy the chart below (I hope it’s ok that I’m sharing these numbers on your blog!). I had it all color coded and formatted in Excel, so if you would like to see the more visually appealing version, let me know.

        Aside from the fact that we had a bad year in FY13 (across the board in phonathon, really), I’m still happy that our completion percentage for recent alumni is in the ball park of the other alumni categories. I’m not sure what the nationwide standard for completion percentage is, so I’m not sure if those segments are similarly good or similarly bad. I’m also happy to see that when we do get a recent alumnus/a on the phone, we have a relatively good success rate in converting them to donors (our overall average was 36% in FY12 and 41% in FY13). As would be expected, the average gift for recent alumni is quite a bit smaller than the other categories, but that’s less of my concern.

        I’m mostly interested in seeing if the trend for completion percentage continues to drop for recent alumni (and across the board) and whether our efforts should be placed in transforming phonathon to better reach this population or if it’s a lost cause. I still believe phonathon has a role to play in fundraising, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to objectively assess whether I’m holding on to something that still benefits the institution or if I’m merely grasping at positivity for nostalgia’s sake.

        Comp % Donors Credit % Avg $ Pledge %
        Recent Alumni
        FY12 27.30% 196 67.71% $46.52 46.89%
        FY13 15.54% 157 69.92% $39.08 39.85%
        Change -11.75% -39 2.20% -$7.43 -7.04%

        General Alumni
        FY12 34.55% 887 42.50% $82.59 56.35%
        FY13 20.35% 619 44.72% $73.16 54.88%
        Change -14.19% -268 2.23% -$9.44 -1.48%

        Non Grads
        FY12 19.86% 124 50.34% $80.69 39.74%
        FY13 12.14% 63 45.50% $53.38 30.29%
        Change -7.71% -61 -4.85% -$27.30 -9.46%

        Golden Grads
        FY12 34.62% 26 31.17% $62.31 15.76%
        FY13 52.05% 92 19.14% $67.01 44.66%
        Change 17.43% 66 -12.03% $4.70 28.90%

      • Dan Custer says:

        Sorry, that table didn’t translate well into my post. If you want to see the whole chart, let me know and I’ll email it to you.

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