How to Engage Young People Today for Your Organization’s Success Tomorrow
Today’s nonprofit organizations need to be as agile and innovative as the young donors and activists they hope to attract. Make no mistake, young people are willing to give (84% of Millennials donate to an average of three organizations). Yet what’s worked in the past is an unlikely predictor of success with young people today. Gone are the days of traditional marketing and fundraising galas, with mobile-giving, peer-to-peer fundraising, influencer culture and social activism being driven by Millennials and Gen Z donors.
This generation of young people is eager to engage with the organizations they believe in beyond mailing in a check. Connecting with young people means bringing your organization to them, not waiting for them to show up on your doorstep. It means understanding what they value and clearly demonstrating how you align with those values. It’s about turning your mission into a movement and building a community your new supporters can join. These changes are not simply nice to have, they are crucial for the future success of legacy nonprofit organizations hoping to attract a new generation of donors, volunteers and advocates.
Organizations like GLAAD, Make-a-Wish and Children’s Miracle Network have purposefully sought to engage young people and it’s what has enabled them to stand out and scale amidst a rise of new organizations vying for support.
GLAAD has done an incredible job at consistently tapping into youth culture and providing ways to participate that are most meaningful for young people to feel ownership of the cause. Take amp, a young creator series that includes writing, art, videos and other creative content by and for young people to make the movement their own.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation has seen significant revenue growth since 2004 largely by being open to trying new ideas and programs to engage different groups of people. In 2017, the organization launched Wishmaker, a digital crowdfunding platform that allows people to grant a specific child’s wish instead of giving to the broader organization. It makes the impact personal and tangible, while also taking a community approach. “In a crowded nonprofit world, staying relevant and conveying the impact we have in the world is critical to our success,” Josh deBerge, Make-A-Wish director of national communications has said. “If we don’t, people will move on to the next organization.”
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals tapped into a key facet of life for young people: 91% of Gen Z males and 84% of Millennial males regularly play video games. It’s with this in mind they developed Extra Life, a peer-to-peer fundraising program powered by Twitch, the largest live streaming platform for gamers. Extra Life was brilliant in that it met young people where they are and tapped into what they are already doing. The program included “Extra Life Guilds” to build community around the effort with IRL meet ups and a digital community hub to share photos and chat with others.
Below are a few tips to help engage young people in your cause to set yourself up for future success and growth.
1. Show the Tangible Impact of Support
Ensure your supporters understand what their support means for the organization and the difference it can make. It’s important to share the real-life stories of what support means to real people. Make it easy for them to see precisely where their money goes and exactly how they are helping to make a difference.
2. Mix Up the Ways to Help
People want to get involved in a variety of ways whether hosting a peer-to-peer fundraiser on social media, signing a petition, building a playground or helping in a food pantry, give them different ways to get involved. Truly value the diverse ways younger generations can harness their energy to make a difference for your organization, even if (and especially when) it hasn’t been done before.
3. Encourage Community-Building
Community and a sense of belonging are essentials for Millennials and Gen Z. By including your supporters in the stories you share and creating opportunities for them to advocate your cause to their peers, you’re inviting them into your circle. In addition, they become your best spokespeople by sharing their own involvement with friends and colleagues and expanding the potential for more involvement.
Nonprofit organizations that are able to adapt to the changing demographic will find success attracting young people, today and in the future. A few small changes can ensure that your organization is ready to offer more engagement opportunities for young people that tap into their sense of community, diversity and passion.
Mary Noel is the business development director of DoSomething Strategic. Starting from a core belief that there is massive potential at the intersection of positive social good and smart business growth, Mary helps clients identify opportunities to reach young people in ways that are authentic and impactful.
Prior to joining DoSomething Strategic, Mary led strategy and growth efforts for mission-driven tech startups Andela and Zocdoc. Once an impassioned and bold eighth-grader with an idea to volunteer on six continents before she was sixteen, she is now hoping to finally make it to Antarctica. Mary lives in Connecticut with her husband and one-year-old twins, where she is always on the hunt for the perfect avocado.