Millennials: that group born between 1980 and 2000 who have challenged (and perhaps re-defined) the way people have been living, buying, working, and giving for generations. Raised during a technological revolution, they’re informed, interconnected, and interested in using the resources they have to make a positive impact.
And it seems everyone is trying to connect with them. A quick Google search on “reaching millennials for charities” yields about 19.3 million results. Add in “for nonprofits” and there are over 1.6 million hits.
Here’s one conjecture why charities – in particular – need to closely consider how they are resonating with millennials:
“Because of this generation’s sheer size, and the demonstrated high propensity for its members to participate in cause work, millennial involvement today – and into the near future – can mean the success or failure of social movements and causes.“
It’s likely that similar sentiments were once shared about the Baby Boom generation. During their respective times, both generations have used “man power” to enact significant social change. Both have benefitted from a rich communication context that enables ideas to spread. And both have expectations about how to communicate, connect, and contribute that are equally unique and similar to other demographics.
To make the comparison more concrete, Pew Research offers 7 research-based ways that Millennials compare with their grandparents. Findings indicate that millennials are more metropolitan, better educated, more ethnically diverse, and less likely to be married or to have served in the military than previous generations. They tend to be less well off than preceding generations, yet are managing to save more money for retirement than Baby Boomers did at their age.
Millennials have also been raised during a time of unprecedented access to information. They’re accustomed to learning almost anything with the click of a few buttons. They’ve witnessed wars, human rights violations, and economic collapses that have rivaled the Great Depression. And they’ve been able to the look through any number of lenses at the social, economic, and political justifications for each of these events.
This could be why many of them believe that the world can – and should – be better. They see themselves in a position to help.
For charities and nonprofits, this is great news. There is an entire generation waiting to support your work if you are willing to connect with them on their terms. What follows gives you “5 Surefire Ways to Reach Millennials” in a landscape familiar to them: digital marketing.
#1: Know your Audience
Quick question: Do you know how many of your supporters are millennials? Understanding who comprises your supporters is an important place to start before you begin planning any kind of digital strategy.
Google Analytics will track your website traffic and provide you with the data you need to discover how people are finding your website, where they are connecting from, and how they decide to spend their time once they arrive on your website. It’s free to sign-up and use, and easy to set up.
Audience Insights on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, offer a more detailed snapshot of the types of people who connect with your social pages and posts.
If millennials are well-represented in your support base, spend the time and have the conversations to figure out why that might be. It’s difficult to keep doing what’s working when you don’t know what’s right about it.
On the other hand, if (enough) millennials aren’t yet core supporters of your organization, it may be because you aren’t where they are. Researchers investigating social media use in 2018 show that younger adults are especially drawn to Snapchat and Instagram, often visiting these platforms multiple times per day. Given that technology is in a constant flux, millennials are also known for moving on to the next new social media platform, so this will eventually change. Furthermore, because cross-platform posting is the norm for millennials, a connection on Instagram could be broadcast across Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, where the user is active.
And this begs a second question: Where is your organization most active on social media? Are you engaging with millennials on their terms? If not, course-correct and focus your efforts on the sites that will connect you with your desired audience.
#2: Wear your heart on your sleeve
More than other generations, millennials are interested in helping improve the lives of those they see as needing help. They are especially drawn toward causes and social issues that are of personal consequence. For them, the organization will always be secondary to the cause: their focus is on enacting change – not being a transactional donor, activist, volunteer, or advocate, for any particular institution.
In short, millennials are looking to add to work they find meaningful. Because you understand this, you need to make your cause central to every communication you disseminate, and you must ensure that everyone within your organization is clear about your impact. You can then enlist your team to help demonstrate that impact by surfacing stories and experiences relevant to your supporters (and the communities you are trying to connect with). As a group you can make sure those communications are broadcast digitally and tracked regularly.
Systematize how you collect and share stories that focus on how supporters extended their influence, or how your organization has influenced a key issue. Think of how these moments can be shared on social platforms. Stories, quotes, interviews, and video clips – in all their imperfect glory – can showcase what has been accomplished more effectively than the numbers in any annual report.
Working through these practices will help you present an honest, authentic picture of who you are, what you care about, and how you advance your cause, and they will help create an emotionally-connectedof supporters you can rely on.
#3. Be Trustworthy, Transparent and Specific
Millennials expect to clearly understand what your organization works toward, within a few seconds of viewing what’s posted on your feed or your website. They want to know who you are, what you do, and – most importantly – why and how you’re doing it.
A simple way to clarify this message is to write down your current values and key messages in simple language. Most organizations already have a completed version of this, but what they miss is enunciating a strategy about how these values and messages translate into daily practice.
For example, if your values include “Mobility, Independence, and Dignity,” how does your organization encourage this for employees, volunteers, and others in your community everyday? Maybe you allow your people to work remotely. Perhaps you invite volunteers to “make their own event” to suit their vision of what supporting your cause looks like. The stories that come from these aligned, strategic decisions are what will ultimately inform the way people think about your organization.
Aligning the values to your fundraising strategy is another important factor. Be specific and share the impact that your organization will make. Instead of having just a donate button on your website, communicate to your audience how much money you will need and for what. For example, 10 wheelchairs are needed for seniors that just got a hip replacement. The wheelchairs will help them to stay mobile and independent. Currently we have 20 seniors on our waiting list. The cost of one wheelchair is $250.00.
Your job, then, is to present and coherently connect those dots for your millennial audience in both word and deed – on a screen and in person. In doing so, you will build a community of members who know that they can trust you because they can see the work you do, the results you create, and the intentions behind them both.
#4. Design Visually
Digital marketing experts estimate that people today are exposed to around four to ten thousand ads each day. In that slush, it’s difficult for any one ad or website to stand out, but there a few tricks you can use to hold millennials’ digital gaze a bit longer.
First, ensure that your website is optimized for mobile use (not just compatible). Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous among millennials and Statista reports that the daily time spent on mobile by millennials worldwide was 223 minutes in 2017, up about 19% from 2016. If millennials have trouble navigating your website from their phone or tablet, they will go elsewhere. Invite your staff and volunteers to give feedback about their mobile experience, and make the improvements needed to offer users a seamless experience. Additionally, it is equally important to have donation forms that are mobile-optimized and easy to use – which encourages keeping data collection to a minimum.
Next, it’s important to be consistent. Use the same logo across all your communications. Have a consistent voice that extends throughout the words and images you choose. Use the same fonts and colours. These principles matter for all demographics, but especially for millennials who are the most likely to come across your messages through a variety of platforms. If you want them to see you and hear your message, it needs to be branded clearly on every piece of communication you employ – bus benches included.
If you are looking for a tool that can help, try Canva. It’s free, user-friendly, and it provides literally hundreds of customizable templates you can use to define or redefine your brand voice. Fonts and colours are programmable so you can ensure consistency across designs, and templates are set up in formats compatible with every major social media platform.
Lastly, try to not get fixated on perfection. Millennials are attracted to raw authenticity and are happy to watch a short video shot from a smartphone (just look at the success of Facebook Live and YouTube). They want to see the bloopers as much as the polished performance, so let your communications showcase at least some of your vulnerability.
#5. Make your supporters your heroes
The people who push worthy causes forward in any capacity are worth celebrating. They are worth thanking. And so, why not personalize how that gratitude is spread?
Because millennials place high value on interpersonal connection, nonprofits can use this currency to deepen their relationship with millennial supporters. For example, following the receipt of an online donation, many organizations send out a “thank you” email or have a pop-up appear to express gratitude to their donors. There are a few easy add-ons that can turn this digital space into an important moment of connection.
Adding the person’s name and including the amount they donated will help the message feel more personal. Including a story about how this specific donation amount has impacted others will extend that effort. And providing donors with a one-click way to share the cause via social media will help them connect to their community in a way they find meaningful, while providing you access to a group of potentially like-minded people who may be eager to offer support. Selfie booths during events make people feel special and encourage social sharing. Offering a variety of ways for people to provide support broadens your reach while enabling more people to feel they have something valuable to offer.
In each of these situations, you have the opportunity to show your supporters that they matter more than their time or money. They matter because they have joined a team who is moving a cause ahead, and each of you should feel some pride in that.
Millennials understand that to go far, we must go together. Marty Neumeier’s work teaches us that millennials – more than most – are not focused on products, but on meaning. They spend and donate as a way to build their identities. Their emphasis on collective voice, and incremental progress toward a worthy goal, dovetails perfectly with the philosophies nonprofits have embraced for decades.
Nonprofits can get digitally connected with this group by meeting them where they are, authentically showcasing their cause and why it matters by using elegant design, and by genuinely celebrating the good they do.
In so doing, nonprofits can ensure continued momentum, extended reach, and increased success.
And that matters.
Kerstin Heuer is a marketing consultant and founder of Non Profit Today. Since 2009 she has used the trifecta of branding, marketing, and design to help nonprofits communicate the heart of their organization, connect with their audiences, and achieve their missions. With over 25 years of industry experience and lessons learned from work on 1000+ nonprofit projects, Kerstin is skilled in collaborating with NPOs to make sure they have a clear message and the traction they need to spread it. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Feldmann, D.; Thayer, A.; Wall, M.; Dashnaw, C. & Celebi, H. (2017) “The 2017 Millennial Impact Report, Year in Review: An Invigorated Generation for Causes and Social Issues.”Retrieved from http://www.themillennialimpact.com/sites/default/files/reports/FinalReport_MIR2017_030618-v4.pdf
 Wheeler, J. (August 15, 2018) “How Millennials Are Changing Philanthropy.” Forbes Community Voice. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2018/08/15/how-millennials-are-changing-philanthropy/#4e9970f27c68
 Simpson, J. (August 25, 2017) “Finding Brand Success in the Digital World.” Forbes Community Voice. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/08/25/finding-brand-success-in-the-digital-world/
 Neilson (November 15, 2016) “Millennials are top smartphone users,” Neilson Mobile Insights. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2016/millennials-are-top-smartphone-users.html
 Statista (2018) “Millennials: daily mobile internet usage 2012-2017.” Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/283138/millennials-daily-mobile-usage/
 Neumeier, M. (2016). The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies and How to Profit From It. San Francisco, CA: New Riders.