Millennial generation puzzle

I recently received an email from a special event manager in Milwaukee, Wisconisn who recently read conflicting advice about the Millennial generation and whether or not it is worth resource development professionals spending the time and money to engage them. Here is how those two camps break-out:

  • School-of-thought #1: The Millennial generation is big (almost as big as the Baby Boomers) and they are streaming into the workplace and philanthropic marketplace at a very fast pace. These newcomers to the economy have the capacity to make charitable contributions and will one day replace their Baby Boomer parents as a driving force in philanthropy. A proactive thinking non-profit organization should invest the time and money to acquire these donors at a young age (regardless of how small their charitable giving actual is at this stage in their lives), steward them and earn their trust, and retain them well into their prime giving years.
  • School-of-thought #2: The Millennial generation might be big, but they don’t possess the same long-term giving potential as the Baby Boom generation. This generation will have a lower standard of living and wage scale than previous generations. They will be saddled with paying off government debts racked up by Baby Boomers. They also won’t have entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare to count on in their retirement years; therefore, they will have to personally save more and donate less. Long-term retention of donors can be an expensive proposition, and it might be cheaper to wait until this generation reaches the height of its economic potential (in 10 or 20 years?!?!). Non-profits have limited resources and should prioritize time and money towards acquisition and retention of Baby Boomers until there is little to no return on investment left in doing so.

For me, I like to straddle the fence between these two points of view. I believe that non-profit organizations need to concern themselves with acquiring and retaining as many Baby Boomer donors as possible. Additionally, resource development professionals need to work with Baby Boomers on funding the needs of today as well as engaging in planned giving/estate planning discussions to fund the needs of tomorrow and leave a legacy.

I also believe the Baby Boomer’s time in the philanthropic spotlight is waning and might only significantly last another 10 years. So, acquiring and retaining new, younger donors is important for the sustainability of any non-profit organization. Good non-profits will figure out how to balance these two competing camps.

Of course, there are far too many non-profit organizations that are not capable of doing both things because they are resource strapped and stretched too thin for comfort. These resource-challenged non-profits will most likely fall squarely into the second school of thought. However, I hope that as those staff and volunteers journey down this path, they fully understanding they’re “kicking the can down the road” and will have to “pay the piper” someday. They are possibly running the risk that Millennial generation donors (who might not have the resources their parents had at their disposal) are in love with other non-profit organization who courted and wooed them 10 years earlier.

If your organization has just a little time and/or money to invest in acquiring Millennials, I urge you to do so. It doesn’t have to be a huge investment. Here are just a few examples:

  • Invest the time and money in maintaining a website that is transparent and shows the whole world how charitable contributions make a difference in your organization, with your clients, and in our community. Go so far as to routinely upload audits, annual reports, monthly financials, programmatic outcomes data, strategic planning scorecards, etc.
  • Work on creating your organization’s space on the social media frontier. Engage Millennials to help you evolve it and maintain it.
  • Create and maintain a volunteer management program focused on engaging Millennials.  If you have the resources, get very serious and create a staff position to recruit, management, and steward these volunteers. Remember, Millennials are volunteer-oriented and the fundraising axiom that “money follows involvement” applies to all generations.
  • Create a young professionals group like a “guild society” to help young professionals network while getting more acquainted with your organization’s mission. This also could be a training ground for Millennials to experience philanthropy and learn more about the art of fundraising.

All of these ideas will cost you a fair amount of time (and even some money), but none of them are prohibitive in-and-of-themselves even for the smallest non-profit organization. However, this balancing act will NOT be easy for many reasons including limited resources and what appears to be increasing tensions between America’s generations. If you don’t buy into the fact that there are increasing tensions, check out some of these YouTube video clips as proof (including a dissection of a 60 Minutes segment on Millennials):

Resource development professionals best get started soon because the road ahead promises to be bumpy. How is your organization trying to acquire Millennial donors? Is there a difference in strategies and tactics between attracting, soliciting, and stewarding Boomers versus Millennials? Which school-of-thought does your non-profit fall into and why? Please use the comment box of this blog to weigh-in with your thoughts and best-practices. We can learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on July 7, 2011, in resource development and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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