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Take It From An Experienced Millennial: Asking a Millennial For Money is Difficult

Resource Center - Foundation

George McGraw is a human rights lawyer living in Los Angeles. His organization, the DIGDEEP Right to Water Project (, defends water access for both water-rich and water-poor populations worldwide. He is a Millennial. 

It's a problem I've been struggling with for some time now. Why is it easier to cop a $500 check from my grandparents' next-door neighbor than to convince a close friend to give $20 to a cause we both care about? Young people seem to shift and squirm through the simple asks that older generations find routine or even pleasant.

Perhaps it's because Millennials are so anxiously self-aware—stuffed full of advertising slogans and personal best trophies. Perhaps they're victims of their own narcissism—uncomfortable with the idea that they might disappoint someone by saying "no.”

Whatever the reason, the statistics agree: only 17 percent of Millennials prefer a face-to-face ask. Development through relationships was a key component of baby-boomer philanthropy, but Millennials prefer immediate, impulsive demonstrations of support for causes that resonate with them in the place they know best: the Internet.

Reach Into Their Virtual “Pockets”

New technology has created a world in which Millennials believe they experience their most authentic selves online. Effectively tapping into this e-consciousness is hard, and only a few NPOs have done so well. Thus far, success seems based on helping Millennials "discover" global issues for themselves while giving them the tools to act on their discovery instantly, even if the action is never repeated.

But fundraisers are relationship-builders, and I doubt we’ll ever be comfortable with such a shallow rapport.  So how can we unite Millennials more intimately to our causes without recourse to an actual, face-to-face conversation?

We need to push beyond the traditional fundraiser-donor relationship and we need to do it online.

For resource issues like water poverty, one way to redefine the relationship is to stop treating donors as donors and to start treating them as beneficiaries. Using tools for experiential education, we can empower our “donors” to see themselves as equal stakeholders in the global poverty cycle—to place themselves back into the equation. Such an approach may well be necessary to achieve lasting change.

water poverty 300x199Take the example of water poverty. Most Americans are now aware that nearly one billion people live without access to safe source of clean water. This awareness, however, has not translated into personal sensitivity. The average American still uses over 100 gallons of water a day, and 69 percent of us take clean water completely for granted. Think the two problems are unrelated? Growing water stress will prove otherwise soon enough.

Millennial Americans have no frame of reference for water poverty—no way to connect personally to the issue. Even if I can convince a Millennial to run a marathon or sacrifice their birthday presents, helping them empathize with a person suffering water poverty in a way that shifts their worldview is a different, larger challenge.

Fortunately, Millennials’ weaknesses are also their strengths. I should know—I'm one of them. We're curious, empathetic, globally conscious, and willing to try anything. Non-profit organizations have an opportunity to build new fundraising tools that empower us to create change in both our own lives and in the greater world simultaneously. The Internet can help.

Be Brief. Be Personal. Be Irreverant. Be a Millennial.

This month DIGDEEP is rolling out a platform for experiential education called 4Liters—challenging Americans to live on just four liters of water a day while raising funds for water access projects. That's just four liters for everything: drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

water challenge 300x169The 4Liter Challenge will be brief, personal, and irreverent—just like most Millennials I know. Of course, the experience will live online, using the platform at to unite tweets, photos, blog posts, and videos into a single live-stream of the experience.

Tools for experiential education like 4Liters harness Internet literacy and the Millennial drive for self-expression, turning them into powerful tools for empathy building. At the same time, they provide an invaluable educational experience that stands apart from their utility for raising funds.

Still, experiential education programs have to be carefully designed. In the past months of planning we’ve found that four elements matter most to our Millennial donors:

1. Dynamic content creation. Millennials want to feature their own content while vetting similar content from others. The more dynamic the content, the more compelling the online experience.

2. The pulley system. Millennials are already exerting time and effort to maintain their social presence online. They want campaigns that work seamlessly with existing networks rather than replacing them.

3. Personal challenge. Have you noticed a recent rise in hipster crossfit gyms and muddy 5ks? Millennials embrace a challenge—even a difficult one—if it alleviates boredom while boosting self-worth.

4. Charting change. Beyond a sense of personal accomplishment, Millennials want to feel that their sacrifices matter. They expect transparency and share-ability in project reporting—a demand that if met, can spread an organization’s work across large social communities.

Changing From An ‘Ask’ To An Experience

By answering these demands we’ve made 4Liters less of an ‘ask’ and more of an experience. Not a cheap, allegorical museum exhibit, but a fun, engaging, and deeply personal intrusion into the everyday lives of its participants.

4Liters expects more from Millennials than their attention or even their money; it expects them to surrender their perspective. It harnesses our well-practiced social habits to communicate a valuable truth: whether you have access or not, we all share a right to the clean water we need to live with dignity.

This is the first in a two-part series following DIGDEEP in the launch of its 4Liters platform (


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