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Nonprofit Strategies

How to engage younger volunteers and donors

It’s a make-or-break moment for nonprofits, and engaging young people is the key to making it. Learn how to engage and recruit younger volunteers for your good cause—specifically how to market to Gen Z.

Madison Mikhail Bush
September 15, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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Why engage younger volunteers and donors?

You might already know this, but if you don’t, you need to: 1 in 3 nonprofits are in danger of closing in the next two years due to COVID, according to Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

It’s a make-or-break moment for nonprofits, and we want to see you make it for the benefit of our communities.

To make it, engaging young people is key. Why?

1. Young people make the difference in volunteer programs 👷

This past year, we found out just how important younger volunteers are to have. During COVID, many nonprofits saw a glimpse into their future without older volunteers, as it was high risk for them to continue volunteering. Let’s take food banks for example. In April 2020, food insecurity skyrocketed due to COVID. Older “cornerstone” volunteers quarantined and nonprofits couldn’t recruit younger volunteers to meet growing service demands. Because 51% of U.S. food programs are run entirely on volunteers, massive volunteer shortages were felt throughout the country, leading to slower response efforts. In fact, states like Ohio had to station 300 national guard members at food banks to act as emergency volunteers to account for the volunteer shortage. Nonprofits need effective ways and strategies to reach young volunteers.

2. Young people turn into individual donors 🌱

A study by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund found that volunteers donate 10 times more than non-volunteers. Plus, nearly 79% of volunteers will donate to the organization they volunteer for, meaning successful volunteer programs that engage young people can lead to healthy donation support in the future.

3. Young people are joining the workforce 💼

As young people join the workforce, their influence and passions will be reflected in corporate giving. Why does this matter? Corporate giving increased to $21.09 billion in 2019—a 13.4% increase from 2018. Furthermore, Candid found that corporate donations accounted for 44% of the $20.2 billion donated for COVID-19 in the first half of 2020. Engaging young people entering the workforce is critical.

In short, we need to understand how to engage young people now.

A quick intro to Gen Z

About Gen Z’s characteristics 💥

Gen Zers (or Zoomers) are a diverse, super-educated group of social-impact-minded individuals born between 1996 and 2014. Gen Z has never known the world without the Internet and spends an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes per day on their smartphone, reports Snapchat. According to Adobe, 26% of Gen Z claim to have spent over 10 hours a day on their phone.

They are authentic and idealistic, as exemplified in school walkouts advocating for climate change action. Gen Z is untrusting of institutions or status quo, leading many to want to be entrepreneurs. Like Millennials, they care more about causes and less about individual nonprofits. Zoomers tend to hop around and support many NGOs who help the same cause. They are extremely tolerable yet, at the same time, inflict a “cancel culture” on those who are not tolerable. And most notably, they are anxious.

Reasons Gen Zers might not give or volunteer with your nonprofit 🙅

Truly, GenZ is so characteristically anxious that many of them cite anxiety as a reason they don’t volunteer. They worry about how to get to the volunteer experience, where to park, what awkwardness could arise, will the volunteer coordinator “be cool,” could they be publicly “called out” for anything—the list goes on and on. Other reasons why you might not see Gen Z volunteering is their perception that online activism—simply sharing cause content on their social media—fulfills their community involvement obligation.

Lastly, “digital frustration” can be a reason you don’t see Gen Zers walking through your door. Remember, this generation doesn’t know what it means to live life without a smartphone, GPS, and flashlight in their pocket. If they are frustrated by a nonprofit’s onboarding process or donation experience, they will not complete it. Frustration in this case could be classified as taking more than 3 clicks or taps in a digital experience.

Reasons Gen Zers give or volunteer with your nonprofit 🏆

Why do they volunteer or give? They might feel required to in order to “beef up” their resume. Maybe they want to strengthen their “personal brand” for social media. Or they feel passionate about your cause and enjoy your volunteer experience.

Most Gen Zers are social justice advocates and deeply care about the environment and the economic future of our country. Here are the top causes Gen Z cares about:

Equality, Education, Jobs, Health, and Climate

Our data show that young people volunteer most for environmental nonprofits, but they volunteer least for what we would consider “traditional volunteering” opportunities, such as food pantries and free clothing stores (it would take a whole extra blog to explain the theories behind this!).

Nationally, ¼ of all volunteers are under the age of 24 (most likely thanks to the help of school requirements), and the majority find volunteer opportunities online or by word of mouth from a friend. Classy reports that 32% of Gen Z donate their own money to charity and 1 in 10 want to start their own 501(c)(3) charity.

What gets a young person to sign up to volunteer or give?

Requirement ✅

This can include building a resume or fulfilling a school requirement. This needs no further explanation; however, if you’re looking to have a constant flow of young people in your organization, team up with a national honors society.

Social pressure or opportunity 👯

We all understand peer pressure, but what we mean by “opportunity” is the opportunity to increase one’s social brand presence. The Black Lives Matter movement is a remarkable example. Even though most young people felt compelled to become advocates because of horrors captured on camera, they also felt pressure to use their social platforms to advocate for the moment or march because of the social pressure to speak up and no longer remain silent or passive in the face of racism.

Ease of action 💫

Having an easy, smooth way for young volunteers to sign up with your nonprofit is critical, and it all comes back to anxiety. If a young person is volunteering by themselves (outside of a school or religious group), they want to know where to park, what door to enter in, what they will be doing, and what to wear all before they come. If the digital signup process is clunky, manual, or contains ambiguous steps, a young person will bail in the process.

How to market your nonprofit to Gen Zers

Now, let's talk about how to get young people interested in your nonprofit.

Cause education 📢

Learning about your cause is more important to young people than your brand. When you market and recruit for either volunteer or donation opportunities, think about impact and information.

👉 Impact

Young people want to know why what they are doing matters. In fact, 84% of Gen Z wants their day job to have a social impact, says Business News Daily. When conveying the impact of their contribution either through their time or money, use tangible, story-centered examples. If you want to hook them, they need to know details or the story behind why they should care about your cause.

Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are great at this. Here’s some soundbites we’ve heard them use in the past:

“Today you’re building a house for a single working mom and two kids; today we’re going to ask you to vacuum all the floors from sawdust. Because you’re taking the time to do this today, we’re going to be able to paint next week and get this family moved in.”
“With this contribution, we’re able to build 3 more houses in this neighborhood. We’re going to tell you the history of this neighborhood and the amazing people that live here…”

This is the successful story-centered impact communication your supporters are looking for.

👉 Information

Gen Z wants to know the complex issues around the problems you are trying to solve. Don’t shy away from the details. Remember, this generation wants to be well informed.

For example, there are tons of viral Instagram accounts dedicated to talking about climate change. Not just what climate change is, but reporting on policy, pipeline debates, fracking, and more. The information your nonprofit has about your community issues is what young people want to know, but it needs to be presented to them in a way that’s easy to digest. Your nonprofit doesn’t need to be on every social media platform. Pick one or two you can maintain. If you want to target young people, lean more into Instagram. Another pro tip: Instead of just posting pictures, try posting infographics.

Titles matter ⭐

How you list volunteer opportunities or fundraisers is a vital marketing opportunity. Zoomers attention span is 8 seconds, and a title starts the timer on those 8 seconds.

Our recommendation is to:

  • Start your listing with an action verb.
  • Include who you’re helping.
  • Give significant detail about the experience in the listing.

Take the posting below as an example. “Warehouse Volunteer” sounds like something a 22 year old wouldn’t be interested in. But, if that 22 year old understood the significance of this experience at a glance, they would be more interested.

Follow similar recommendations when listing fundraisers. List who you are fundraising for in the title instead of your brand name. For example, a title like “Fund shelters to save turtles from freezing in the winter storm” is more eye-catching than “The Tortoise Conservancy Annual Fundraiser.”

Visual importance 🤩

Visual brand changes can be overwhelming to undertake as an organization, but if you’re looking to catch Gen Z’s eyes, the effort is worth it. This generation is targeted with beautiful images constantly creating a new standard of brand visules. However, the majority of nonprofits use photos and art that actually derail a volunteer or donor from being interested in your organization. Check out how Glossier (a beauty company loved by Gen Z) compares to typical nonprofit branding.

We understand that visual representation is subjective, but it’s important to remember that the audience you’re wanting to attract likes your visual brand.

Your starting point to do more good 💪

POINT has partnered with Givebutter's modern fundraising platform to provide a free volunteer management platform to nonprofits. The best way to fundraise AND the easiest way to manage volunteers? What more could you ask for!

POINT is a volunteer management platform that is trusted by over 500 nonprofit organizations and tens of thousands of volunteers. We meet young volunteers where they are, which is on their phones. We want to give you our tips and tricks for what we see is most successful for our partners.

We hope these insights will help you connect with a new generation of supporters. Most of all, we hope you make it during these next 2 years. Thank you for the change you create in our communities. We believe in you.

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