Man on Smart Phone

How can nonprofits diversify their donor base and attract the Millennial audience — and then hold onto them for years to come? Here are a few ideas.

Growth strategies

Attracting the Younger Generation as Donors

  • Kelsey Vatsaas
  • 9/6/2012

I recently graduated from business school with a focus on nonprofits. I am also a part of the tech-savvy Millennial/Generation Y demographic, have served on nonprofit boards, and have volunteered at exempt organizations. Through these experiences, I’ve found that nonprofit organizations are having to change their fundraising practices to engage the younger audience.

As the current donor base begins to shrink and the numbers of nonprofit or social-impact organizations grow, how can nonprofits diversify their donor base? How can they attract the Millennial audience — and then hold onto it for years to come? Here are a few ideas:

Bundle your events

Fancy galas may not be something younger people are drawn to or can afford to attend, but it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your core donors and eliminate popular social events. Use these fixed costs to build the pipeline for future givers.

As an example, I was recently at a client site, an art museum which had a successful $500 per person event. To align with the goal of engaging a younger audience, the museum considered an after-party event with a lower price point. The affair would have a different feel than the main event, and the organization would focus on using social media before, during, and after to connect with its new, now captive audience. The goal with this group was different, focusing less on raising money and more on engaging the younger donors and beginning a long relationship that builds toward larger financial and service commitments. This is an important point, because hosting a big event that targets just the Generation Y audience could result in a financial loss. Consider this to be a long-term investment; the audience will likely have more discretionary income later on.

Speak their language

They say the younger generation is used to convenience and instant results, and I have to admit, I’m more apt to respond to a fundraising request when it arrives via a text message or email than if a letter was mailed to my home. And without postage fees, these communication vehicles can be a cheaper option for nonprofits.

But it’s not always easy for an organization to make this communication shift. At one point I volunteered for a very small organization and the only way we could accept donations was via cash or check. We simply didn’t have the resources, infrastructure, or knowledge to build an online giving site. Then we heard about a free portal called, a collaborative venture which used the platform to create a venue for online giving. It also gave us participation in the "Give-to-the-Max" day, which encouraged citizens to make nonprofit donations on a single day. We ended up reaching a new donor audience through this tool, coupled with outreach through email newsletters and a Facebook page. And it’s not just a Minnesota thing. Other states are starting different avenues, too, and these software tools (, and can be used by any organization.

Connect your donors to their donation

For an audience that has grown up with the ability to choose its favorite American Idol via a text message, one way to connect with a younger audience is to give them a chance to choose their preferred donation. I’ve donated in the past to an education project that allowed me to direct my dollars to a specific teacher who was raising money for a project that really spoke to me. I was able to track the fundraising, watch the project unfold over time, and see the end result. It was satisfying on an emotional level, but it was also important that I saw the outcome of where my money went, which gave me confidence to direct money toward this nonprofit in the future.

This is also a best practice for giving across all generations. Donors of all ages are interested in data about financial stewardship, the amount spent on overhead, and the quantitative impact their donations have made. This interest in measurement is a continuation of donors’ interest in involvement in the giving process and results. and are two online platforms that allow individuals to specifically identify where their donations are going and in some cases, to follow-up on the impact that their donation made.

Millenials are the fastest-growing segment of today’s workforce. Likewise, they are the fastest-growing segment of volunteers and potential donors to nonprofit organizations. The American Red Cross’ use of text-message donations during the Haiti earthquake, and the trend it subsequently started, are evidence that Generation Y is willing to support good causes and get involved. It also reflects that traditional methods for engaging these donors may not be as effective. And although they may not make the largest donations, they want to help. Keep this group in mind as you plan your fundraising strategy. It’s the future.