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How to Engage 20-Somethings in Your Cause

Finding new volunteers and donors is one of the biggest challenges facing nonprofit organizations. For the past few years, more and more nonprofits have used social media to get people to embrace their causes, but getting the "social-media generation" behind your cause and then inspiring them to contribute in time and resources is another matter.

Today's 20-somethings, sometimes called "slactivists," are often cynical of corporate efforts. After all, at a formative age they witnessed dramatic institutional and corporate failures. But they were also born during an age of riches, are highly educated, and have been told that the world is their oyster. So they are a very optimistic group.

The advertising agency TBWA/Chiat Day, with research partners Flamingo and Changing Our World, recently conducted a study to explore what causes are top of mind for people born between 1982 and 1992, and to find out what types of marketing programs can successfully engage this group.

Here are eight ways the study suggests that nonprofit brands can engage young adults:

  1. Take time to understand what motivates your 20-something audience.
    Sixty-five percent of young adults said they would get involved in charitable efforts if they believed their involvement was large enough to make a difference. Develop information about your program that illustrates how individual contributions help, and then prompt them to act.
  2. Seed information in places the 20-something audience goes for news.
    Find the online places 20-somethings visit, such as online news sites (78 percent of this audience tries to stay informed about the causes they care about). Research the social media channels they use. Then be the source of information that prompts them to act.
  3. Make your messages social.
    Weave your social cause into young adults' social networks. Join social media conversations that make sense, and make sure your comments are in context. Use the same communication methods as your target audience. After the Haiti earthquake, the Red Cross employed "mobile philanthropy." By setting up a text donation number, the organization raised more than $30 million.
  4. Show how corporations you work with help support your cause.
    A full 75 percent of young adults surveyed believe corporations have the material resources to help, and 60 percent think corporations have the knowledge to support social causes. Nearly half of young adults feel companies are morally obligated to help support social causes, but fewer than 5 percent believe these brands are best positioned to help solve problems related to poverty, human rights, health, and education, even though they have the knowledge and resources to do so. In your communications, use examples to illustrate how your large donors are making a difference.
  5. Overcome logistical barriers.
    The top three reasons young adults don't get involved in social causes are:

    • time constraints;
    • skepticism that their involvement will make a difference; and
    • a lack of opportunities to get involved.

    Make sure you communicate that getting involved in your programs is easy—and convince participants that they count.

  6. Ignite creativity.
    Tap into the technological savvy of the 20-something audience by creating marketing platforms that allow them to show off their digital creativity. Give your audience the ability to submit and interact through photos, videos, and gaming—these are all excellent tactics that you can incorporate into your social media outreach program.
  7. Start an L3C staffed by young adults.
    Many states, such as Vermont, Illinois, and Michigan, are now allowing the formation of L3Cs. Fast becoming the organization of choice for social entrepreneurs, they are low-profit, limited liability corporations whose aim is to offer significant social benefits.
  8. Consider going open source.
    Open source software tools can be used to spread your messages and promote interaction. E-newsletters, forums, blogs, wikis—these are all tactics you can use to engage your target audiences. This approach fits nicely with young adults' passion for information sharing, and it may also fit nicely with your organization's goals. The possibilities are endless, including edutainment campaigns and glocal ("think globally and act locally") reporting via the Internet.

How do you engage your young-adult volunteers? What draws them to your cause and organization?

Dagmar King, Marketwire
© 2010, Marketwire

Dagmar King is the senior marketing manager with Marketwire, a leading newswire and communications work-flow provider.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice