Riding the Millennial wave to generous hearts

Boomers continue to dominate the nonprofit sector at every level – on staffs, in boardrooms, and as donors and volunteers. But not for long. There’s a generational tidal wave headed our way.  By 2025, Millennials — individuals born between 1984 and 2004 — will make up 75% of the workforce.

Despite ample warning, however, most businesses are ill-prepared for what’s about to hit them, or so the folks at Deloitte tell us based on findings of their global survey, Nonprofits even less so. At least that’s what I see in my consulting practice.

life_preserver_splash_6979Everywhere I go, folks are frantically seeking THE secret to engaging young adults, but few there be that have found it.

Which makes Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement a must read for leaders in ministry organizations. My young friend Ethan Eshbach, a 2014 graduate of Messiah College and now coordinator of young adult engagement for the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA), put me on to the book — a favor I’m delighted to pay forward.

For fundraisers, the chapter on “The Millennial Donor” (6) alone is worth the price of the book. And not just because authors Kari Saratovsky and Derrick Feldman pass along a treasure trove of research-based good ideas for engaging young adults. What captured my attention were similarities between Cause for Change and what I regularly preach about fundraising as ministry. Take a look at the sample paired statements (Cause for Change in black, Growing Givers’ Hearts in rust/italic) that follow and see if you agree.


“Recognize donor involvement by thanking Millennials for their time and skill beyond just giving. . . This strategy will ensure that your organization is effectively creating an engagement program that honors engagement and involvement rather than short-term revenue.”

Faith-focused fundraising programs seek to make room for donors and to honor the fact that when they give, they give – and want to give – of themselves as well as their resources. It’s more than just money that people are giving. It’s part of their life.

When it comes to motivating a Millennial to give, successful nonprofits should focus on clearly communicating their mission and trustworthiness – and skip the celebrity endorsements. A compelling mission or cause will move the majority of Millennials to give.

As organizational theorists Terrence Deal and Casey Baluss point to the fact that ‘benefactors give because they believe and have faith in a beloved enterprise.’ For the purposes of nurturing both their commitment and their spiritual growth, nothing takes the place of meeting donors where their hearts are.

Most Millennial donors want to know their gifts will make a difference. Fail to communicate your impact, and you’ll fail to attract Millennials’ support – and run the risk of never engaging them at all.

There is no denying that fundraisers who seek to nurture donors’ hearts, to help donors see and feel the meaning of their generosity, must take time to describe how gifts to the organization are used to meet real needs in the lives of real people. . . The staffs of ministry-centered development programs have discovered that often the most precious gift they can give a donor is information about a program or project and about how that donor’s gift has made a difference.

Organizations must not ignore ‘small’ Millennial donors but instead should build on those relationships and inspire a greater sense of connection to their causes. . . Be patient as entry-level givers focus on small gifts to multiple organizations; more mature donors give larger gifts.

The Bible is full of verses and stories that affirm the importance of small steps in faith. What we see as a small gesture might be, in God’s eyes, the act that is most important. It might be the first step in a lifetime of giving that may be significant for the future of the church. . . If we are committed to doing this work as ministry, we should be attentive and open to these possibilities.

So there you have it, the not so secret secret to engaging Millennials (and everyone else). Generosity is a matter of the heart, not age. Keep the focus on the Spirit’s nudging in individual lives and good things will follow – generation after generation.

For more on Millennials, faith, and generosity, see:

Reaching Millennials through stewardship evangelism

GenXers or gray hairs, which will it be?

Tips for turning your organization into a Millennial magnet

What's your take on this topic?

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