How to Best Understand Your Institution's Millennial Donors

Philanthropy among millennials is an exciting topic. The sheer size of the millennial demographic (80 million+ worldwide)—combined with our significant financial resources—position us as a generation whose support can make or break nonprofits in the coming decades. There’s been a lot of research into millennials’ giving attitudes and habits, including the Millennial Impact Report.

So what’s important to us millennials?

  • We want to know exactly how our gifts will be used and the impact they will have.
  • We’re comfortable using web and mobile to engage with an organization. We don’t respond well to telemarketing.
  • We consider our ability to spread an organization’s message and influence peers to be an important element of our overall support, along with volunteering our time and skills.

Since there are so many millennials around the globe and so many different types of nonprofit organizations, it’s important to gain a close understanding of your organization’s particular millennial market.

Here are some techniques for gleaning important insights about your specific base of millennial supporters:

Start with your existing donors.

It’s alarming to me how many organizations struggle with acquiring young donors, yet they do nothing to understand or nurture the young donors that they already have. Your existing millennial donors are your best resource for insights into this coveted demographic.

Instead of sending them a boilerplate “thank you” note when they make a donation, reach out with a phone call or email to express sincere gratitude and inquire about their gifts. If someone is willing to make a financial commitment to your organization, chances are they’ll be willing to spend three minutes on the phone to share their reason for giving. In fact, this extra outreach will probably make the young donor feel especially appreciated— thus incentivizing them to give again (and perhaps in a larger amount) next year!

Identify your high-potentials—talk to them!

When I first started my position as a young alumni engagement director at Syracuse, I set up coffee meetings every single day for about three months with high-potential young alumni. These were former student leaders on campus, frequent attendees of our events, and alumni whose inclination to be involved otherwise stood out.

At the coffee meetings, I asked, “What has your experience been like with SU ? What do you like? What don’t you like? What do you hope to see?” I asked open-ended questions about philanthropy, like “Why do you think most people our age give?” and “What would inspire you to give?” and “What could we do to get more alumni to participate?”

In essence, I positioned them as the experts and just sat back and listened. These conversations resulted in relevant, actionable insights that propelled the strategy for my work over the last two years. What’s more, the young alumni felt respected and valued because I listened to their perspectives without making any sort of financial ask.

Gather insights through volunteer activities.

Don’t rush into a philanthropic relationship with millennials. Instead, offer plenty of opportunities for them to volunteer, attend events, and engage in other ways with your organization. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the organization and its needs, and—just as importantly—it gives you a better chance to understand your millennial base of supporters!

After working with a millennial volunteer for a few months, you’ll have a better sense of the types of projects that might appeal to him/her and how to approach a conversation about making a philanthropic gift. Building high-value events can also help you get a better picture of your alumni, millennial and otherwise.

By taking it slow and getting to know your millennials, you can build a relationship that provides real, long-lasting value for your organization and its millennial constituents.

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Dan Klamm is a monthly contributor to the EverTrue blog. He serves as Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has six years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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