Forget what you thought you knew about millennial donors

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The NextGen is poised to transform the philanthropic landscape

The Millennial generation, or NextGen, gets blamed for a lot of what is wrong in the world today. Common stereotyping includes labels such as entitled, unreliable, cynical and easily distracted. Clearly, many of these perceptions are misconceptions. I know some of these people quite well and I recognize their vast potential to engage and make a sustainable contribution to society and our communities. But, they will not do it the same way their parents did, and the charitable sector will need to learn and adjust in order to properly engage these newcomers.

Many leaders in the philanthropic sector are quite concerned about declines in overall giving; and some are pointing a finger at the NextGen. While it is true that they give less to charity now, recent research from Sector3Insights found that Millennials are more engaged, have more positive attitudes and higher donation intentions than older cohorts. They also feel stronger emotional connections and a sense of urgency to lend their support. This is consistent with a recent report by Angus Reid, showing that 37% of Millennials believe they should be doing more to support charities, compared to much lower numbers in other age groups. So, it just makes sense that these positive attitudes and willingness to step up will convert to greater giving, if we can engage younger donors in the right ways.

One of the main reasons that younger donors are not currently giving as much as others, says the research, is that they simply have less money. Millennials’ financial position is more precarious than the previous generations’ were at the same age, according to financial experts. A combination of high residual student debt, less regular, full-time employment and lower income and wealth levels, have them feeling the need to tighten their belts. But they will not always be broke. The boomer generation is aging and their offspring are on the brink of inheriting record wealth (estimated at more than $30 trillion in North America). Also, Fortune reports that a new generation of entrepreneurs are already outperforming their parents in starting new businesses, so it won’t be long before the successors to Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos emerge.

While Millennials have very positive attitudes towards charities and giving, they are also highly spontaneous and unlikely to have a giving budget or a list of organizations they plan to support, according to Sector3Insights. Many also appear skeptical about giving to institutions, preferring to focus on solving specific issues and action-oriented solutions. Fundraisers wanting to appeal to this group will likely not succeed if they default to the same old approach to solicitations and annual appeal letters.

The global phenomenon of #GivingTuesday is a great example of spontaneous and creative engagement that appeals to this generation. Millennials around the world (150+ countries) are inspired by #GivingTuesday and, in Canada and the US, have participated at much higher rates than older groups for the past few years, say the organizers. Despite feeling the financial pinch, the most common way of participating has been through financial donations. Perhaps one of the attractions of #GivingTuesday is the positive, celebratory attitude, as well as the fact that it is highly social in nature (there were 21.7 billion Twitter impressions for #GivingTuesday 2017).This is a surprisingly fresh approach from a traditionally conservative sector that is paying off for organizations that participate.

Consistent with the GivingTuesday phenomenon, Millennials are far more likely to first engage with a charity online, via social media, or through volunteering than past generations, according to the Angus Reid study. They know that volunteering with a charity is the best way to see how that charity works and the impact that can be achieved, before they put money on the table. And smart fundraisers are paying attention to these NextGen volunteers, grooming them to become future donors and peer-to-peer advocates. This approach is consistent with the trend of Millennials choosing experiences over products and is an indication that charities have an opportunity to deliver the intangible benefits these young adults are looking for.

The bottom line? Far from being responsible for the demise of the charitable sector, Millennials are the future. They want to make a difference, are emotionally engaged with charities and they feel a need to give more. They don’t have the big bucks yet, but they will. So, charity leaders need to learn more about the NextGen now, and find the best ways to engage them in order to harness their potential to become committed givers.

John Hallward is Founder and Chairman of GIV3, a registered charity with the mission to encourage more Canadians to be more giving. John is also a volunteer at Sector3Insights, a new social enterprise market research firm providing insights for nonprofit success. It leverages state-of-the-art research tools used in the corporate world to help guide nonprofits in their decisions, strategies and actions.

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