An Open Letter to Nonprofits—Sincerely, a Millennial
As a Millennial who works in the nonprofit software sector, I’m often surprised by how hesitant nonprofit executives are when it comes to marketing to my generation. It seems that the Baby Boomers and Matures who run nonprofits are aware that they need to market to Millennials, but unsure of how to proceed and unconfident that their work will pay off.
Trust me when I tell you that the biggest generation of donors (there are more of us than any other age group in the U.S.) is ready and willing to support your cause—you just need to know what they’re looking for. I’m here to give you the building blocks you need to cultivate Millennial constituents.
Trust and Impact
In an era of fake news and big data marketing, Millennials trust corporations as far as they can throw them. We’re almost as suspicious when it comes to nonprofits. If we are going to donate, we must thoroughly trust an organization first. We will do our research, talk to our friends and family, and see what other people are saying about you before we go right to the source. You may like to think we’re absorbed in our phones, but we’re probably just pulling up your mission statement before you can even say it out loud.
While we may have faith in your cause, we have yet to believe in your organization. This is why you have to focus your Millennial marketing efforts on building trust. Use conversational language, so we know you are “real.” Show us examples of all the great work you’re doing in our communities and around the world. In short, prove to us that if we donate, you will use those dollars for good.
Trust inevitably comes down to showing the impact of our dollars. So, when you show us examples of your nonprofit’s work, be very specific. The same goes for when you ask us for money. Don’t tell me you need money for your inner-city education program and leave it at that; tell me you need money for your inner-city education program that has proven success raising the grades and graduation rates of its participants.
While you’re at it, show me a picture of a specific student you helped and tell me the story of how donors like me made his success possible. If you write like a real person and you illustrate your impact well, Millennials will start trusting you.
My generation is incredibly well-connected. We don’t just chat online, we form communities. For this reason, leveraging social media and forming relationships with your Millennial constituents is so important. You can’t stop at gaining our trust. You must maintain a relationship.
Maintaining Millennials’ trust involves not only sharing specific examples of where our donations go, but also sharing these stories consistently. We want to feel like you value your relationship with us, and an annual report and a brief monthly newsletter won’t cut it (but it’s a good start). We want to be able to check up on your social media and read about everything you’ve been doing on your blog.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to master every single social media channel or post an in-depth exposé to your blog every single day, especially if your nonprofit has a small staff. Focus on only one or two social channels and two to four blog posts per month. It’s better to do less and do it well than to spread yourself too thin.
Another key to succeeding on social with Millennials is sharing. We put a lot of emphasis on “social proof,” which means we want to know what other people are saying about brands or nonprofits we are considering investing in. We also want to be able to share our donation or a fundraiser that we like. Make it easy for site visitors to share your online fundraising pages. Current donors will be pleased, and you might get some new donors from their share.
User experience (UX) is a hot field right now, especially among Millennials. We live a large part of our lives online and can immediately tell a functioning site and a good site apart. If you haven’t applied UX principles to your website and donation process, it’s time to get started. Spend the extra time and money to design logos and layouts that are clean, modern and unique.
In terms of usability, your online fundraising webpages can’t just be functional, they need to be truly and intuitively usable. This means making the donation process as easy as possible. Give us very few fields to fill out and make your main “Donate” button the focal point of the page. The easier the process is, the more likely we are to make a donation.
Your website also shouldn’t look like it just came out of the 90s. If you put the work into your design, it will be obvious. If you don’t, it will be a huge turn-off for Millennial donors. Why would I trust your organization if it looks as though you don’t care about your cause enough to update your website and make it usable? It sounds harsh, but that’s the reality of it. Your commitment to your cause will be judged at a glance so put your best face forward.
If you walk away from this article having only taken away one thing, I hope it is this: Be real about your mission. Of everything I have talked about, staying true to your cause and showing how your nonprofit is changing your community is what will matter most in the end.
Enabling social sharing and optimizing the user experience of your online fundraising platform will only go so far when it comes to reeling in Millennial donors. The thing that inspires me most about this generation—my generation—is how much we truly want to make a difference. Help us do that, and you will have us for life.