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What Millennial Marketing Strategies Can Teach Nonprofits about Motivating Donors

Do you ever worry you’re not doing enough to attract the donors of the future?

2015-07-24_16.03.03.jpgDoes thinking about how to market to Millennials (who will make up 36% of the U.S. workforce by next year and nearly half by 2020) fill you with anxiety, because it’s just one more thing to add to your overflowing list?

Fear no more!

Today I’m going to tell you how you can have it all – and with very little extra work.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing a multi-generational strategy. If you can manage to treat different types of donors differently, you absolutely will get the biggest bang for your buck by so doing. However…

The reality is that not every small to medium-sized nonprofit has the bandwidth to craft different strategies.

So, what to do?

Look at what the different generations have in common!

I happened on The Secret on How to Motivate Millennials by Lolly Daskal and was struck by how much her advice applies, increasingly, to everyone. At least everyone who is online.

Which, again, is almost everyone – including my 97-year-old father-in-law. We’re all a part of “Generation Connected” (GenC).

[Speaking of “Gen C”, did you know that over the last decade the amount of time we spend on the Internet has quadrupled? Or that the average person worldwide has five social media accounts and spends an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day?]

If you unpack what motivates Millennials, you’ll find it’s not that different from what motivates almost all of your supporters.

Daskal writes:

"Young people need to be asked what matters, not to be told what matters.”

This applies to people of every age!

In other words, outbound marketing is pretty much dead.

People today can figure out on their own what’s happening in the world, and what issues they care about. They don’t need an “authority” to make them aware, lecture, or dole out information in a top/down manner.

In the post digital revolution world, everyone has access to information. And this has fundamentally changed how people communicate and how business is transacted. Chances are good that folks are already two-thirds down the path towards engagement with you (or not) before you even know they exist! So you’ve got to think not only about them helping you but about you helping them.

What are you doing to make would-be supporters sit up and take notice?

You can’t sit around waiting for the “marketing folks” or the “sales team” to make people aware. For your purposes, marketing, sales and fundraising are synonyms. They all have the same goal – to influence and persuade folks to do something positive to make the world a better place. You’re all part of the same fundraising/marketing/sales team.

This is why, among the top “Dive the Five” fundraising fundamentals” I’m concentrating on through my “Clairification” blog this year, two are focused on meeting donors (almost all of whom are part of Gen C) where they are:

1. Integrating fundraising with a robust content-marketing strategy, and

2. Mastering online social fundraising.

This is part of your job as a fundraiser!

If you’re doing these two things, in my humble opinion, you don’t need to stress that much about different strategies for different generational segments.

Just stick to the recommended strategy (below) targeting Millennials, and you’ll be pretty much “good to go” for your entire online, networked constituency.

Let’s take a look at a recommended Millennial marketing strategy; then see what you might apply across the board.

First, I’ll begin with what I know from 30+ years of in-the-trenches fundraising and nonprofit marketing experience.

Asking folks what they care about is a great place to begin with everyone.

One of the memes du jour in fundraising is “donor-centered” – and for good reason. It’s part of human nature:

Everyone wants to be listened to.
Everyone wants to be asked their opinion and advice.
Everyone wants to have a voice and be part of a community.
Everyone wants to be a partner.
Everyone wants to be loved.

If you want to succeed with fundraising, it just makes sense to be eminently human about it. Which means tapping into what we know about human nature. The best book I’ve read on this subject is Cialdini’s Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion. [See Psychology of Giving: Influence Your Affluence by Using the Science of Persuasion for more on using the key universal principles of influence.]

Focus on knowing and caring for your donors better.

But also focus on tinkering with the way you deliver meaning to your constituents. And one big take-away in that regard is that…

When it comes to building lasting relationships, it pays to be social.

Today more than ever.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key Millennial motivators per Daskal -- with some added thoughts from me as to why they are more or less universally applicable (unless your target audience is vampires, Klingons, werewolves or some other non-human constituency):

1. Innovation. 78% of millennials are strongly influenced by how innovative a company is. They seek opportunities for growth and creative expression that build or stretch their expertise.

TO DO: Showcase your organization’s areas of innovation. Offer engagement opportunities that enable people to share their interests and creative pursuits, network with others and show off their skills.

2. Autonomy. Millennials don't want to be micromanaged. They need to feel respected for their capabilities and competencies and know we trust them enough to make decisions.

TO DO: Don’t lecture. Treat folks as partners. As for advice and feedback. Offer volunteer opportunities that give people responsibility and authority.

3. Opportunity to sharpen their skills. This generation is motivated by opportunities to grow their competence and sharpen their skills. Their appetite for continual learning is something that truly motivates them.

TO DO: Offer adult education and leadership development programs where folks can pursue new interests and build new skills. Showcase the talents of some of your staff, volunteers and donors in these programs, thereby engaging them further as well.

4. Leveraging technology. Millennials are very tech savvy; they know how to utilize and understand technology more than any other generation.

TO DO: Tap into folks’ intuitive knowledge, offering opportunities to use it on behalf of your cause. Need a website revamped or optimized for mobile? Need help monitoring social media accounts or using analytics? If nothing else, simply ask folks to share and advocate on your behalf with their online networks.

5. Collaboration. 74% percent of Millennials ranked a collaborative work culture as the first or second characteristic they look for in a job.

TO DO: In all your communications, show how your success is due to your collaboration with your donors. You’re in this together, working towards a common goal. Ask folks to spread the word to help you find new collaborators.

6. Flexibility. Millennials are motivated by flexibility in where they work and how they get things done. They know how to multitask, and they expect their location at any moment to matter less than what they're accomplishing.

TO DO: Take advantage of the flexibility of more and more adults (Boomers are retiring) to be available for volunteer assignments. Create a multitude of opportunities that meet the needs of folks looking to find meaning in their lives. Create volunteer job descriptions and goals, so folks get a sense of accomplishment.

7. Instant gratification. Boomers were accustomed to waiting for titles and financial rewards, but this generation expects to be incentivized now.

TO DO: Put donor service at the top of your list. Thank folks promptly. Show them the impact of their philanthropy. Ask them for feedback. Offer them leadership opportunities. Give lots of “gifts” of content, recognition and praise.

8. Meaning. Millennials want to know they're aligning themselves with a larger mission and purpose. They want to know they are genuine contributors to a cause or organization.

TO DO: This is your money strategy. With everyone. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way people strive to find meaning. Your job is to facilitate philanthropy and give donors the rewards they seek.

To motivate donors --Millennials or otherwise -- is not difficult once you understand their needs and behaviors. And what Daskal concludes about one generation can really be extended to all:

“Once you gain their buy-in, they give you their best.”

So put your worries and anxieties aside! Simply double down on your commitment to building strong constituent relationships with everyone, everywhere.

• Be yourself.
• Be interested in your supporters.
• Be helpful to your supporters.
• Be grateful to your supporters.
• Be in ongoing communication with your supporters about their awesomeness.

The most enduring organizations understand that to bring in and sustain donor investments you need to build relationships. You need to partner. It’s not a transactional process. It’s a transformational progression.

Here’s to progress!

Claire_Axelrad_077small.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. A version of this article originally appeared on Clairification June 19, 2016. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification.

Topics: Donors Nonprofit Marketing Milllennials Millennial engagement