Cracking the Millennial Code
Much head-scratching happens around engaging Millennials. At Turnkey, we turn to research to inform our work. Our human behavior expert, Otis Fulton, prepared an overview of the Millennial audience, which I will share with you.
Understanding our audience members and their motivations is important to successfully recruiting them to support our causes. Born in 1980 or later, Millennials are the first generation of digital natives; at about the time they entered high school, the internet became a public space. Half of this group, age 26 and younger, entered high school with social media, first Myspace and then Facebook.
For good reason, chief development officers want to understand how to access Millennials. As a group, Millennials want to support charitable causes. The "2013 Millennial Impact Report" found 52 percent of respondents said they’d be interested in monthly giving.
For most of this generation, digital life always has been the norm. And, as we all seem to suspect, Millennials are different.
San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge wrote in her books, "Generation Me" and "The Narcissism Epidemic," about the rise of "me" and what it means for society. It turns out that the group is different in a couple of ways.
The first is that Millennials are more narcissistic than previous generations. This is testable—they score higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
How does narcissism shape their attitudes? It means they are somewhat more selfish than average, tend to like themselves a lot and crave the admiration of others. A lot of research has indicated they aren’t "joiners." For example, the "Association Communications Benchmarking Survey" suggested more than half (56 percent) of professional associations have admitted they have trouble engaging young professionals and 55 percent of associations have trouble customizing their communications for Millennials.
The second way that Millennials are different from previous generations is that they love social media. Interestingly, this reinforces their bent toward narcissism. Research has suggested that using social media may lead people to view themselves more positively.
About 51 percent of Millennials said they are mostly or almost always online and connected, while another 39 percent said their lives are a mix of online and offline. Nine out of 10 are connected a significant portion of each day! Today, Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Twitter are the two dominant social platforms this group uses for news and information.
Although 88 percent of Millennials get news from Facebook, the more common motivations for using the platform are social. Seventy-six percent of Facebook Millennials cite seeing what their friends are talking about and what’s happening in their friends’ lives as a main reason they turn to Facebook. The reasons they use Twitter are related but slightly different. Twitter is a place to learn about what people, in general, are talking about, not just the lives of people they know.
Put three common threads together—individualism, digital presence and desire for charitable participation—and you get a pretty clear prescription for peer-to-peer engagement. As we know, being engaged with peers online is part of everyday life for the vast majority of Millennials.
According to the 2013 study, when involved in nonprofits, Millennials prefer to share information about the cause, not the organization itself. To me, this preference means that peer-to-peer messaging needs to avoid traditional PR and move toward content focused on the cause.
And what happens when they do venture away from their screens and volunteer? Millennials view volunteer opportunities as a way to socially connect with like-minded peers. This moves them beyond technology (social networking) to in-person action. So it’s important to craft marketing messages that highlight the peer involvement. For example, "Join 20 other yoga enthusiasts at Bikram Yoga for a Yoga-for-Good fundraiser this Saturday."
Next week, I’ll dig into the experience of Vickie LoBello, former chief development officer of St. Baldrick’s Foundation and now Turnkey’s lead strategist, and how to put this information into action in the peer-to-peer market.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.