Millennials, What Gives? You do!

Millennials give and it is in the best interest of non profit organizations to build relationships with them and nurture those relationships into the future.  Why?  Millennials make up the largest Generation living right now and will be around for another 60 to 90 years.  They currently have $200 billion in direct purchasing power and are expected to become the beneficiaries of a $41 trillion transfer of wealth from older generations.(1)  And 60% of them, that’s approximately 480 Million have given a donation to a cause or charity in the past year. (2)  Google “Search Millennial Donations” or “Charitable Giving by Millennials” and you will amass a number of reports and articles outlining best practices and strategies to engage them.  See “Links” in this blog for a few select posts, articles and reports on this subject.
At a recent direct marketing conference, a panel of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers were asked questions regarding how they wanted to be communicated to by business and by nonprofits.  Here are some key take-aways from the discussion:

  1. Millennials appreciate transparency and authenticity. When they believe in something they support it and share information about it.
  2. Millennials communicate by texting and social media and not so much email.  The Boomers on the panel agreed and said they can’t get a call back or email reply from their college age and young working adult grandchildren, but if they text they get a reply in less than 30 seconds.
  3. Millennials and Generation X are ok with receiving mail but value a direct approach and would appreciate images and messaging on the outside of the envelope that  summarizes what’s inside and gives them an instant way to donate.
  4. Direct Mail needs to morph into an online mobile experience by advancing them to the nonprofits website or social media sites and engaging them with stories of how that non profit is making a difference via testimonials, images and video.
  5. The mobile experience also needs to show them how they can get involved and share what they now know about this non profit with their friends and family.
  6. Make donating, volunteering and participating easy for them. Examples: Online Donations, Donations at Checkout and with Purchase, Mobile Text, Following on Social Media, Crowdfunding Attendance and Participation in events such as 5K’s, Galas, Auctions, Car Shows, Golf Tournaments and volunteer events.

Blackbaud released a study last August on The Next Generation of American Giving that provides important facts and figures for building fundraising marketing strategies.  For example, email is not performing as well as it did two years ago as a donation avenue, direct mail still performs well for Boomers and the Greatest Generation yet needs to be revamped for Millennials, specifically:  “Testing Direct Mail strategies with Generation Y, both as solicitation and cultivation vehicles should be high on the fundraisers’ priority list over the next 5 years.” (3)
Across all 4 generations giving on line continues to grow making an online strategy paramount to engaging Millennials and Generation X.  Download and read the study, it has a wealth of information to help guide you in your fundraising strategy and page 31 offers 7 recommendations you need to know.

  1. Keep your eye on the bouncing red ball. Boomers are highly likely to be the dominant source of income at least for the next decade, perhaps longer. Matures are slowly passing from the scene but will still be a presence in 2023.
  2. Multichannel marketing and fundraising is for everyone, but the optimal mix varies by cohort. Everyone values direct mail to one extent or another. Everyone values face-to-face contact. Nearly everyone is engaged online. The trick will be to optimize the mix for Boomers, the source of most donor income today, while opening the door for younger donors.
  3. Prepare for the future today. There are things organizations can and should do to attract younger supporters and a share of the roughly $16 billion they give each year. Recognizing the full pay-off may take years, but peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdsourcing stand out as important opportunities, and will generate at least some income from Generation X and Boomers.
  4. It’s not just about tweaking the tactics. Many of the biggest impediments to effective multichannel fundraising are organizational and political. Internal wrestling matches over attribution of channel income are commonplace and lethal to your efforts. Moreover, to meet the expectations of Generation Y, successful fundraising organizations are going to need to be far more transparent in their finances and far more serious about demonstrating effectiveness than they have been previously.
  5. Know your donors’ birthdays. Not only can you send them a birthday card, which would be a smart move, but you can also begin to understand and track how your file is behaving generationally.
  6. Don’t phase out direct mail now, but do have a “succession plan” for the mail channel. It is declining as the dominant source of direct marketing income, and there is no indication that the trend will reverse itself. In fact, the data suggests the declining trend may accelerate, as even Boomers shift to giving online.
  7. Make donors happy. Many of the tactics fundraisers find themselves using (such as heavy solicitation schedules) are taking a toll. Now is the time to create and track donor satisfaction metrics, and closely track retention by channel and generation. It’s also time to pay more attention to inbound communications by donors. Responding to member mail is often a lowly position, and that person is rarely given a voice at the strategy table. The commercial sector has long ago learned that if they listen carefully, their customers are voicing their interests and concerns every day. Charities should adopt similar listening strategies. (4)


  1. Millennials and the Reshaping of Charity and Online Giving
  2. Blauckbaud, The Next Generation of American Giving, page 6
  3. Blauckbaud, The Next Generation of American Giving, page 17
  4. Blauckbaud, The Next Generation of American Giving, page 31

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