Insights to Power Social Good

Tips for Reaching and Engaging Millennial Donors

Posted by Ethan Kotel on Feb 9, 2017 9:56:43 AM


Millennials and Fundraising - Why Mobile Giving?

entrepreneur.jpgMillennials can perhaps best be described as enigmatic: we seek to have a real and tangible impact on the world, but we’re lazy; we wear fancy clothes and Apple watches, but we’re swimming in student loan debt and decrying rising health care premiums. We protest in force to support causes we deem just, but we’re apathetic, and have never topped 22% of the electorate in a presidential election. It is within these conflicting ideas, however, that the truth about millennials becomes much more simple.

We’re just picky!

We demand to be spoken to in the right way by the right people and for the right reasons in order to feel inspired. We want to donate what little money we have to the right causes and to feel as though we’re making an impact, but that doesn’t mean we want to put effort into doing so, or even get out of bed. We want to talk to people and make real connections, but from the safety of being behind a screen.

And yet, we represent a tremendous opportunity for your organization: to help grow your cause and donate time, treasure, and talent. With access to a digital community, text to give technology, weekly webinars and blog posts like this one, we have been able to cultivate an enormous amount of enthusiasm and engagement, from millennials as much as any other age group.

I’ve been floored by the level of passion I’ve seen evinced by members of my generation, once their walls are broken down. It’s a simple matter of communication to motivate millennials and activate their full potential for your worthy mission-based work.

So, the question becomes:

  • What is the right way to speak to millennials?
  • How can you build a connection with someone you may never meet, the way millennials do every day?
  • How can you inspire us to donate, without making us turn off Netflix or put down our phone?


The first matter sounds difficult to decode, but is in fact very simple to understand once you do. Millennials have more tattoos and more piercings than any previous generation. We have social media profiles filled to the brim with personal information, photos, memories of our favorite moments. Our taste in music varies as widely as our taste in clothes, facial hair, and microbrews.

In short: to this generation, self-expression is everything.

trendy-1030996_960_720.jpgThis is a generation raised in the age of the internet, where everything is being watched at all times by everyone, where your life is as good or bad as you can make it look.

This is a generation trying desperately to create our own identity in a world where we feel everyone is becoming increasingly similar. As a result, authenticity is highly prized, and the single most important thing when speaking with and marketing to millennials.

Speaking authentically can be difficult, but, bearing in mind that millennials want to have conversations, want to be engaged, and want to make a difference, it simply becomes a matter of messaging.

Firstly, abandon any notions you have of selling us on anything. We have no patience for a plastic sales pitch. We are not interested in data or numbers: we crave sincerity and passion.

We want to hear your story, and we want you to hear ours. Millennials are tired of being talked about as one big group (ironic, I know). We're tired of seeing newscasters finding one 20-something on the street to speak on behalf of all millennials. We're tired of older generations talking ‘at’ us, instead of speaking with us. Through our quest for self-determination, millennials are more attuned than most to the idea that “everyone has a story.”  

We recognize, as members of the most diverse generation ever, that everyone has a unique background, different life experiences, unique gifts, flaws, and struggles, and a story that’s worth adding to the conversation. We do not want to be told to care, we simply want to hear your story, honestly and authentically, so that we can decide for ourselves that we care about your cause. Tell us who you are, what you’ve done, why your cause is important to you, what it’s meant to you, and what you dream of seeing it accomplish.

Share your story! Then, ask us questions.

Ask us about what is important to us, why it’s important to us, about what makes us want to get up and do something.

Ask us about our backgrounds, relate to us, understand that we all share the common goal of wanting to live in a better world, and know that we want to work together to achieve that goal.

Build a relationship with us on a basis of commonality, of understanding, and we will be more than happy to listen to anything you have to say. When speaking to millennials, your marketing strategy should be centered around relationship building first, and fundraising second.

If what I just wrote comes off as defensive, it is because I come from a generation that has been labeled as lazy, narcissistic, and entitled. We are told that we are uncaring and apathetic, while also being chastised for being too thin-skinned, too quick to anger. We have been reduced, in the eyes of those who came before us, to a stereotype of digital immaturity, while our individuality is ignored and our points of view invalidated.

The tips I’ve detailed above for talking to millennials are nothing more than ways to relate to someone on an individual basis. You may even think to yourself, “wow, talking to millennials sounds just like talking to anyone else.” And therein lies the truth: we’re all, simply, people. We are all unique, and we only want to be spoken to as if our individual perspective is valued and understood.

We are all in this together, as people, and we want to be spoken to as one human to another, without our voice being reduced to that of a millennial.

This desire to hear and tell stories is perhaps the reason millennials are so comfortable building relationships through a screen. To tell one’s story is to reveal what makes someone who they are. To  reveal that much about oneself is to be vulnerable, to open oneself up to criticism and rejection.

A position of vulnerability is scary for anyone, but millennials were afforded the opportunity to carefully craft our messages, to think and re-think our words before ever saying anything, to be vulnerable with each other while tucked safely away, out of sight. Through texting and social media, we have mastered the skill of learning about each other without ever having to speak in person, should we choose.

A good social media strategy can utilize this, to reach out and connect with millennials through written word, to build a real emotional connection while maintaining the pressure-free atmosphere of allowing the contact to respond at their leisure.

Leisure is an important word when approaching millennials.

 Although earlier in this post I crusaded against the labelling of millennials as lazy, what I’m about to write may certainly come off that way. We were not raised in an era of mass protests, nor were we raised with the “bootstrap pull-up” mentality of our parents. Rather, we have been raised in an age where most action takes place digitally, where a protest is an angry facebook status and engagement is reading the headlines on Apple News. Our phones are surgically attached to our palms, and the best way to engage with us is to use that fact to your advantage: with mobile marketing and mobile fundraising.

If a millennial is replying to you on twitter or instagram, you already know that they are using their phone to do so. As such, mobile donations are the best way for millennials to engage and donate to your nonprofit. It’s easy, it’s fast, it capitalizes on a habit that millennials already have, and it requires no extra effort on the part of the donor than it does for them to reply to your message.

If you’ve already connected with a millennial on their level, and built a relationship with them by telling your story and listening to theirs, it is a simple thing to ask them to close instagram, open a message, and send a one word code to make a difference in the world.

If we believe in you, if you’ve made us feel any emotional connection at all, we will not hesitate to support your goals in order to, at least, make us feel good about ourselves, and at most, take an active role in the success of your cause.

We are not terribly complicated. If you are able to break through the facade of standard sales and into the realm of emotional expression, we will do everything we can to prop you up. Show us who you are, and we will prove to you what we’re capable of.

If you’re interested in learning how to use our next generation mobile technology to engage the next generation of donors, volunteers, and supporters, we’re always here and happy to chat about strategic opportunities, fundraising ideas, and tips to help nonprofits grow.

Yours, most sincerely,


A Millennial


p.s. Throw in a few pop-culture references during your conversation and baby, you've got a stew going!

Topics: mgive, Fundraising, mobile, donors

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