Top Ten Trends in Philanthropy #2: Millennial Donors and Non profit fundraising

It should come as no surprise, at this point, that the Millennial generation – people in their 20s and 30s – would make a list of top 10 trends in philanthropy. They’re changing a lot of things in the world today, including the philanthropic landscape.

Let’s start with some generalizations about non profit fundraising and this generation.

  • They are the largest generation in the U.S., comprising some 80 million people
  • They were born between 1979 and 1993.
  • By 2020 they will comprise 50% of the workforce.
  • Millennials and the Gen Xers before them, already account for two-thirds of the workforce.

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Non profit fundraising  with Millennials

They are bringing new ideas and new expectations to the nonprofit world. As someone who is decidedly not a Millennial (or part of the GenXers for that matter), I heartily welcome their ideas like a breath of fresh air in springtime.

  • They demand openness and transparency from nonprofits. Last year I interviewed a Millennial-age employee of a consulting client and asked her what was important to her as a donor. She responded, “When I give a gift, say just $100, I want to know what the organization accomplished with my money.”
  • They have an entrepreneurial mindset. I read an article awhile back that posited that the idea of a 9 to 5 job was anathema to many Millennials. Work, the article suggested, was very likely to be a series of gigs. I think the same applies to solving problems. Millennial donors are not necessarily content to give to the traditional nonprofits. They are likely to start their own ventures if they cannot find an organization that is addressing the issues they want to tackle.
  • They have an appreciation for diversity. It’s not enough to talk about diversity. Organizations have to be diverse. In every way possible. And it has to be authentic.
  • The embrace collaborative leadership. Top down approaches to solving problems won’t cut it any more. Organizations have to be more open to outside ideas and leaderships.
  • They are opposed to hierarchy. If not given a chance to collaboratively lead, they could rebel and find another group to work with.

Engaging Millennial donors requires a whole new approach to engagement, as the illustration from MobileCause below demonstrates.


  • Photography and video are extremely important. Keep your videos short. If it’s more than two minutes, you will lose people. And lose the photos of a bunch of staff sitting behind a table. Photos should really demonstrate your mission in action.
  • Offer authentic ways to volunteer and advocate. Donors give to causes that they and/or their friends care about. Creating meaningful opportunities for Millennial donors to become involved is important.
  • With engagement comes giving. Once you receive a gift, don’t just send the same ole, same ole acknowledgement letter. If your acknowledgement begins with, “On behalf of the Board of Directors…” you’re sunk. Provide compelling follow-ups after donations – and not just once. Then you can further engage donors in recurring gifts.
  • Incorporate peer-to-peer campaigns. This is becoming critical for nonprofits. Millennials are social; they share information freely. According to MobileCause, five out of every eight donors to peer-to-peer campaigns are new to the organization.
  • Utilize texts and emails. Millennial donors want to be communicated with on their mobile device. That means texts and emails. Print newsletters are quickly becoming passé.
  • Activate your social channels. If I go to your Facebook page and your latest post is from last week, I know that you’re not really using social media. You should be updating Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram daily. And don’t just use it to promote your latest event or to ask for money. Demonstrate your mission in action.

Lastly, what is falling by the wayside with the rise of the Millennial generation?

  • They don’t send cash or checks. It’s all online. So make it easy. And promote monthly giving. More than half of those surveyed for the 2015 Millennial Impact Report indicated that they would interested in making monthly gifts. Just imagine that $20 year-end gift could become a $20 monthly recurring gift.
  • Direct mail is dead with this generation. Don’t spend your money.
  • And don’t even think about phone solicitations. It won’t work. I recently read an article about a major university shutting down its phone center. Smart move.

There are a couple of great resources that you should take advantage of. The first is Network for Good’s Millennial Donor Playbook. The other is the abovementioned 2015 Millennial Impact Report.

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow.

Check out his website, and to find out how he can help you, email him.

You can also follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Image: iStock by Getty Images

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