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Giving Millennials a Seat at the Table

Resource Center - Foundation

(July 12, 2011) Every organization has a community of supporters. It's a fabric of people beyond a simple donor list. What are you doing to integrate people in their 20s into your community so that it is stronger today and in years to come? Here are some suggestions.

"Community is huge," says Daniel Kaufman, co-founder of the One Percent Foundation and Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. "We have to move past the idea of the individual as a donor and more as a community member."

Kaufman and Erica Williams, senior strategist at the Citizen Engagement Lab, were guest presenters of an online chat hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy on June 16. They expressed concern that nonprofit organizations often look at Millennial engagement from the point of view of donations, whereas just as with all generations and groups of donors, you need to build relationships first.

Young people have a lot to offer right now in terms of guidance and strategic direction for the organization, passion and outreach to a broader community, they say. When understood as part of a community, and not judged solely by immediate monetary giving capacity, engaging Millennials can have a big effect on the organization--and the revenue it attracts.

"Yes, money is key," says Williams. "But we have to position money not as the ultimate goal but one of the many necessary ways in which young people can use their resources to make a difference."

Building a Culture of Giving

It's been widely stated that young people want to get involved in the causes that they support. By and large, they do not just want to write a check. So how do you harness this energy and interest? Kaufman and Williams say it's about giving Millennials a voice-and really listening to what they have to say.

"Make sure that young people are engaged in a meaningful and substantive way," says Williams. "No one wants to be window dressing."

When the topic of junior boards arose, the presenters and participants offered words of caution about putting young people in a "silo" and not treating them as equal participants. As multiple participants commented, no one wants to be placed at a "kids' table."

Getting the board "on board" with Millennials can be as simple as planning an event run by Millennials, said one participant in the online chat. Once the board sees that they are capable, accountable and enthusiastic, inviting one or two of them to join the board will be less arduous all around.

Understanding Millennials

Attracting young people is about more than simply setting up a Facebook page. "Social networking tools are simply tools to introduce and usher people through a well thought out path to full engagement," Williams noted.

You likely wouldn't invite a group of people to an in-person event, have them gather and leave the room with no indication of what to do next. The same is true in social media. Where do the tools fit in to a larger picture? Networking via social media or in person is about more than clicking "Like" on a Facebook fan page or inviting people into a room.

In fact, as it turns out, Millennial donors make their philanthropic decisions based more on personal connections than virtual ones. This is according to results of the 2011 Millennial Donors Survey conducted by Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates.

In their survey of nearly 3,000 people ages 20-35 (gathered through lists of constituents from partnering nonprofits), the researchers found that Millennial donors want to be approached differently than their predecessors and yet with the same level of respect and the same kind of connections to leadership.

Giving and Engagement

Here are some interesting facts from the study on Millennials.

•  Ninety-three percent of surveyed Millennials gave to nonprofit organizations in 2010, with 21 percent giving $1,000 or more during the course of the year, but the bulk of giving was distributed in small increments to many organizations. 58 percent of respondents said their single largest gift was less than $150.

•  Fifty-seven percent of Millennials gave in response to a personal ask and 49 percent gave online. However, when Millennials were asked how they prefer to give, online giving took the top spot, being identified as the method of choice by 58 percent of respondents, with personal requests dropping to 48 percent.

•  Eighty-four percent of Millennials said they are most likely to donate when they fully trust an organization, and 90 percent said they would stop giving if they do not trust an organization.

•  Eighty-five percent of Millennials are motivated to give by a compelling mission or cause, and 56 percent by a personal connection or trust in the leadership of the organization. Only 2 percent of Millennials were motivated to give by celebrity endorsements.

•  Seventy-one percent of respondents get information about nonprofit organizations through web searches, 62 percent want to receive information by email, and 56 percent get information from peers. Thirty-three percent of Millennials said they use Facebook to gather information on an organization.

•  On an organization's website, 70 percent of Millennials want to find information about the organization's mission and history, and 56 percent want to learn about the organization's financial condition.

•  Sixty-five percent want an organization's website to provide giving guides that explain how support will make a difference, and 52 percent want to learn about volunteer opportunities.

Go ahead, start a conversation in your own organization with Millennials and find out what they have to offer. Don't wait (as many might say) until "they are older and have more money." The time is now.

For more information about Millennials, go to

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