ProSpeak: Engaging Young Donors
Fundraisers often ask, “Why should I spend time working with young donors?”
In response, I often challenge them to perform a simple test: analyzing the age of their current donor base. If they’re like many organizations, they’ll find a significant number of donors age 40 and older.
I imagine you’re in the same boat, and you’re likely thinking, “So, what’s wrong with that? That’s where the money is; that’s the most efficient base. If I can meet my goals focusing on that base, why spend time chasing younger donors with fewer dollars?”
It is true that a lot (but not all) of the money is in that older demographic. But fundraising isn’t — and never should be — simply about raising money today. It’s about developing relationships that result in long-term stability and effectiveness. Achieving that objective requires diversity. Think of your investment portfolio: It requires investment in long-term vehicles as well as those with a quicker, more short-term return. Similarly, when it comes to cultivating donors, you need to work with those who can make an immediate impact as well as those who have the ability to contribute stable returns over a longer period.
So, it’s not about why you should focus on engaging young donors. It’s about how you do it.
Before we talk about how to engage these donors, though, I want to offer a quick caveat. You might be tempted — as many organizations are — to pursue this effort to become relevant with the 20- to 30-something audience by setting up a Facebook page or some other social-media site. Many organizations assume that by simply putting themselves in that setting, they’ll attract young donors to their mission. But this approach often fails because, simply put, technology can be a useful tool, but it is not the answer for reaching young donors.
To reach young donors, you have to consider what they respond to based on life, work and personal interest. In our experience and research, we’ve found that young donors respond best to organizations offering the following four benefits.
- A personal connection to the mission. Typically, young donors are involved in organizations related to causes or issues by which they or someone close to them have been personally affected. If a woman fights cancer, she might enlist in a cancer-related organization. If a man loves to read, he might volunteer to battle illiteracy. If a young family has overcome poverty, they might volunteer at a food bank. Once connected to an organization, these people want to help shape the direction or have the opportunity to directly assist someone served by it.
- Networking. Young donors and professionals view involvement as an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals. They also see involvement in an organization as a means to meet other professionals and local community leaders — possibly with the objective of eventually serving in larger, more powerful organizations.
- Social. Young donors are encouraged by opportunities to work with and be involved in organizations with a social atmosphere. They want opportunities to volunteer, attend or participate in programs of organizations where the experiences are lively, upbeat and positive.
- Ease of use. Young donors are looking for easy ways to get involved. They respond to calls to action and clear methods to make a difference. If they find Web sites and other source of information cluttered of difficult to navigate, they’ll move on to another, easier-to-reach opportunity.
All organizations should embrace these four key elements as they develop a fundraising strategy for young donors. It can be a fairly straightforward process. For example, some organizations develop societies and clubs for young donors — as part of the club, they connect with other young donors in unique social settings, meet with key leaders and volunteer. These kinds of societies provide an entry point for young donors to get involved. Yes, social media can help to support this effort, but don’t assume that social media alone will build this base.
Also don’t assume that, once you’ve made your connections, you can stop there. You must — as you would with any donor — continue to develop the relationship. Cultivate and visit with young donors to show how you admire their passion and how they can affect the work of the organization. Give them opportunities to rub shoulders with more veteran donors and community leaders. Listen to their ideas and make them feel connected to the mission. Offer them private meet-and-greets with board members before board activities; and invite them to work with staff to shape a strategic plan, etc.
In short, engage that young donor’s enthusiasm, passion to improve the community and desire to connect her personal network with the work you do, and you might be surprised by the result. You likely will develop a relationship that pays long-term returns.
Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. After all, these young donors aren’t young forever.
Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm for nonprofits.