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Max Friedman

July 20, 2016

How to get young people excited about your nonprofit (hint: being a "modern" nonprofit has nothing to do with being modern)

Millennials don't care about your nonprofit, but at the same time they are a population essential to any organization's future. The purpose of this post is to give actionable steps that you can take to begin reaching and activating millennials on a consistent basis.

Are you a modern nonprofit?

This seems to be the latest tagline. Every site, platform, and service is providing tools for the "modern nonprofit." Just because Blackbaud is outdated and Classy has a sexy landing page doesn't mean switching over will have younger donors flocking to your site. The issues go much deeper than that. Being modern doesn't mean using the latest and greatest tools, because, as we like to say in the startup world, no one cares about your technology. Being modern means finding new ways to engage the most social and active demographic on the planet: millennials.

Action Item #1: Use Givebutter (just kidding, sort of). Givebutter is an extremely modern solution, but using us won't magically solve all of your problems. The whole idea of Givebutter is to find new and creative ways to engage and activate younger donors. Nonprofits do amazing work, and we leverage your volunteers and donors to tell your story. You can do this, too! Think outside the box, and use modern tools when they are helpful, but don't rely on them to solve the problem for you.

Just having social media accounts isn't enough

The header here says it all. Unless you have a well-thought-out and unique social media strategy, new young donors will not simply appear out of thin air. "Slacktivism" is very real amongst millennials, and it's not easy to overcome. Every organization should have different strategies for social media, and young people will appreciate thoughtful and relevant content. We've spoken to nonprofits time and time again who will say things like "Jim is 55 and runs our Snapchat account!" No offense, Jim, but you're probably not the best guy for the job. If you're seeking a younger audience on social media, having young people running your social media accounts is important. 

Action Item #2: Before you start cross-posting on every social media outlet three times a week and/or pay for services to enhance your social media, put serious thought into your strategy. What are your goals and objectives? If you want to be like everybody else, just keep on posting. But if you want to stand out and make an impression, don't be afraid to think outside the box and try new things. Create a fun social media campaign where you tag a friend in the comment feed, or you'll follow back every person who retweets a photo. Worst case scenario, you can delete the post and try something new the next day. But always keep your larger goals and objectives in mind and don't count on coming up with a single viral campaign. Be consistent and persistent.

Think about how brands can help you reach new demographics

It's no secret that cause marketing is a great way to get in front of millennials. I can tell you personally that any nonprofit that collaborates with Chipotle, Apple, Snapchat, or Instagram would instantly grab my attention. Or if a national partnership is out of the question, going local can be even more effective. If being a "modern" nonprofit is something you desire, then this is the most straightforward, practical way you can prove relevance to a younger demographic.

Action Item #3: Find brands whose audience matches your desired audience. Millennials love buying products that support good causes, so the right partnership can and should be mutually beneficial. This also leads to the most immediate return on investment for an organization in terms of dollars raised, since you are probably keeping a percentage of every product/service sold.

It all starts with culture. Does your nonprofit embrace or reject change?

After speaking with individuals in more than 50 of the largest nonprofits, one thing was made abundantly clear to me: most nonprofits can't handle change. Many individuals see opportunities for improvement, but the idea of trying new things on an organizational level is a scary and often impossible thought. Nonprofits are always under heavy scrutiny and failure is simply not an option for most, so trying new projects without a guaranteed return typically feels too risky. On the other hand, I have noticed that organizations with a culture of constantly trying new things are often the best at reaching new and younger donors.

Action Item #4: A culture that embraces change and encourages innovation is absolutely critical. If you aren't reaching younger donors now, how will that change if you aren't willing to try something new? This culture must be a part of the entire organization. Otherwise, individuals will be scared to take on new initiatives because the fear and consequences of failure are too great.

Be brave and be bold. We're all in this together. Every new young donor is a victory for nonprofits everywhere, so let's go out there and make it a reality!