'Hipsters': Reaching the Next Niche Generation of Donors
“Hipsters” are a generation of highly educated professionals in their 20s and 30s who make increasingly disposable incomes. They were born under the watchful eyes of focus groups, and Google started as they began high school. Hipsters are your newest crop of donors, but how do you reach them?
Many fundraisers view hipsters as the unmarketable demographic unless you're an advertiser that specializes in “scenester” twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. This is simply not true. Hipsters are a solid middle-class demographic, and they are eager to absorb any cultural zeitgeist. By providing takeaways at events or delivering messages through post or e-mail, nonprofits can integrate their missions into the daily lives of hipsters to succeed more effectively in accomplishing their goals.
Being raised in a “disposable” material culture, hipsters constantly receive takeaways in the mail — from restaurants and local nonprofit special events or membership drives. How do you differentiate your institution's takeaway from the ones that end up discarded? Relevance! Your takeaway will make its impact with your potential hipster donors if you can successfully tie it to your mission and make it relevant to their lifestyle.
Hipsters are having children or already have children under the age of 8. Like all parents, they want their children to grow up well-balanced and to have meaningful, family-centered experiences. According to a Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University study, the hipster generation is more likely than any other group to cite “make the world a better place” as a main philanthropic motivation. That is a value these donors teach their children by getting involved in the programming of myriad nonprofits. With an easy, at-home, mission-based activity, your donors can bond with their children through your organization, making the potential of creating two generations of committed lifelong donors.
While working at an early childhood art school, I sent newly registered families a thank-you e-mail that included a .pdf file of a parent/child art lesson using materials commonly found in the home. Ninety-five percent of parents in the test class who received the at-home activity made volunteer and financial commitments, while only 10 percent of the control class who did not receive the activity did the same.
Why did that work? Reaching a market segment by integrating your “product” into its members' private lives is not new, but what is new is the dependence on technology that is a by-product of lifelong Internet access. Thus, creating electronic mission-based takeaways is an inexpensive and effective relationship-building tool that reaches people in their homes.
Hipsters are the first generation to be a by-product of the 21st century marketing machine. Aggressive advertising on corporate America’s part results in a consumer group that is weary of institutional messages. Thus, they are more likely to invest in your cause if it is both referred by a peer and contains social messaging.
Hipsters are substantially more likely to purchase a consumer good if it is associated with a good cause, and marketers know that! Maximizing the efficacy of your event's gift bag can promote your mission, raise funds and cultivate donors. Seek out marketing agencies that specialize in your target group, and pitch your event. Sponsors’ product placements open the door with that company for future partnerships. By specializing your pitch, your organization can approach companies that share your core values, and your potential hipster donor will appreciate your business practices and is more likely to remain invested.
Take, for example, my colleague who worked for an environmental organization and partnered with a niche marketing agency. They produced 200 logoed recycled hemp bags and filled each one with $200 worth of organic beauty and home products — bamboo fiber sweatpants, several healthy-living magazines and yoga mats. After her event, two of the companies sponsored her next event financially and she had a 10 percent jump in membership. Plus, I saw those hemp bags each time I went to the grocery store, which means that target marketing worked!
Hipsters, as a part of any counterculture, define themselves as “the outside” or “fringe” and, thus, create their material identity from the remnants of popular culture just as hippies made bell-bottoms from jeans decades earlier. However, in the 21st century, even “the outside” is “inside” somewhere. The do-it-yourselfer (DIY) has become a codified market group championing anti-overconsumption, environmental awareness and esoteric coolness. Tap in to these ideologies, and your organization can inexpensively ride the DIY bandwagon and promote your mission or programming while virally accessing the cause-based network of socially responsible twenty- and thirtysomethings.
One particular New York City gallery is a good example. It had a print exhibition. Upon leaving, each patron received a trifold brochure with instructions on how to make your own screen print and a potato stamp. The brochure included program-related information, easy-to-follow instructions and easily accessible materials for completing the project. My Christmas cards that year were made with potato stamps, and I have screen-printed pillows in my apartment as a result of this creativity and market knowledge. I recommend visiting that gallery at least once a month since I received the takeaway three years ago, which means the brochure was both relevant and impactful.
For most hipsters, there wasn’t a time in their adult lives without e-mails, cell phones, text messages, Facebook and instant messaging. Hipsters are a hyper-social subculture that is, at any time during the day, in communication with scores of friends or colleagues in electronic networks all over the world. Consequently, word-of-mouth advertising is particularly effective and happens instantaneously, exponentially and organically.
Use education to integrate your organization’s mission into the lifestyle of your target market. In part due to greater higher education and the Internet, hipsters are well-rounded and globally aware. Creating takeaways that teach information hipsters use gives your organization the opportunity to further your mission and increase both your presence and your relevancy to your donor.
At one point, every generation has a counterculture that eventually becomes a niche market. Greasers, hippies, punks, skaters and grunge kids have all been absorbed into donor pools that fund the multitude of nonprofits. The hipster generation is becoming our newest pool of donors that can be reached. Be creative. Be relevant. Meet your donors in the privacy of their own lives.