Ask any direct-mail fundraiser, and she’ll tell you that the average donor age is approximately 60.* Sixty-year-olds give the most money and make up the bulk of volunteers. They also are most likely to serve on nonprofit boards.
I suppose this makes sense, at least among the middle class. By the time folks reach their late 50s and early 60s, they’ve paid down/off their mortgages and put their kids through school, and can afford to redirect more disposable income to charity. Folks in this age bracket also are thinking about their legacies, i.e., what they’ll be remembered for. But this begs a question: If most donors are 60-something, what does this mean for millennial philanthropy? Should we ignore these 75 million younger Americans until they come of “donor age”? Or should we take a different approach to millennial cultivation and giving? And if so, how should we proceed?
To answer these questions, I went directly to the source, interviewing Qui Diaz, director of strategy for PR firm Livingston Communications. Qui is a millennial and a philanthropist in her own right. At Livingston, she’s responsible for helping nonprofits develop strategies to reach younger donors via the social Web.
Jocelyn Harmon: Do you see yourself as a donor or a philanthropist? What do these terms mean to you?
Qui Diaz: “Donor” is a limiting term that doesn’t see beyond cash, whereas “philanthropy” captures a wider range of benevolence. I don’t give nearly as much as I’d like to on either front — time or money — but I am there, on each front, to some extent. I’m also new at this and have a lot to learn. So let’s say I’m a rookie philanthropist, or a philanthropist-in-training.
JH: Why do you donate?
QD: Donating is my plan B because dollars alone will never feed my need for hands-on action. Plan A is giving my time and attention, which is more gratifying. However, I do contribute dollars to nonprofits with missions that align with my own, and I’m learning to give more strategically.
JH: What causes are you drawn to and why?
QD: Anything that alleviates poverty, provides clean drinking water, and prevents the cruel death or disenfranchisement of human beings. These global issues have always resonated with me, even [when] I was a kid. And while the importance of local giving is not lost on me, I’ll usually choose to back the end of suffering before anything else. In addition, I’m drawn to organizations that are looking for systemic solutions to complex problems — like microfinance.
JH: How do you make donations (via Web, mobile, check, etc.)?
QD: About 85 percent of my donations are made via the Web. I’ve participated in a few text-to-give campaigns and sometimes make on-the-spot cash gifts, but I rarely write checks.
JH: Are there any particular times of the year when you are more or less motivated to give?
QD: No, but I feel very compelled to give right now because of the economic downturn and the impact it is having on major/older donors, foundations and nonprofits.
JH: What one piece of advice would you give to a nonprofit that wants to attract more millennial donors?
QD: Millennials are supposedly born-and-bred digital natives, which means two things: First, we are very comfortable doing research, donating and connecting online. Second, we expect and respond best to person-to-person connections. This is what our training in social media has taught us — that we can be heard and listened to, and can go directly to the source.
What does this all mean for nonprofits?
“Meet millennials where they are, i.e., in digital space,” Qui says. “But remember that it should be you, not your brand, who reaches out to us. For example, put your name and title on your Twitter profile and say hi. You’ll make more friends online if you engage us as people rather than consumers. And we’re worth cultivating, I promise.”
* Thanks to Keary Kinch, principal and senior vice president at Adams Hussey & Associates, for schooling me on donor age. FS