How to Get the Attention of Millennials for your Next Fundraiser

I've been hearing a lot of talk lately out in the ether that organizations and businesses all over the country are struggling with a huge problem.

The thing that seems to be flummoxing everyone is the Millennial. Specifically, how difficult it is to get them to engage in well, anything.

I've heard this for many years on the business side, but it’s also become a huge problem with nonprofits, because they don't know how to reach them. 

I hear things all the time like:

“Millennials don't want to volunteer/ don't care about giving back”

“Millennials don't care about fundraising events”

“Millennials don't donate to charities”

I'm going to call BS on all of that. I see millennials stepping up all the time to make a positive difference in the world.

And I’m not just talking about me and my friends.

There are organizations everywhere whose staff, volunteer base, and yes, donor base are packed with young people who care.

Sure, we like our hashtags, selfies, and don’t get me started on filters (that make me give my own generation serious side-eye), so I get how charities and nonprofits can struggle to reach and engage young people, especially with fundraising events.

Like we see in education and business, the truth is, a lot of the fundraising rules that people think of as “standard practices”, just don't apply anymore.

Millennials don't want to volunteer/ don't care about giving back

Not true, we do care about giving back. In fact, young people today are very active and willing to volunteer their time to a cause that's meaningful to them.

People also make fun of our generation for being the “follow your passion” and “do work that matters” crowd. And while I totally understand the mockery behind some of this ( because, yes, I do also believe that by doing work, gaining skills, and developing mastery, you will then develop real passion for that subject area). I believe that while this can act as a great compass for which to live your life, people often forget about the active ingredient that makes it all possible- hard work.

What ever side of the “follow your passion” fence you stand on, its hard to deny that young people are actively looking for work, activities, and even lifestyle choices like diet that align with making a positive impact on the world.

Don’t believe me? Visit your local university and see all of the action happening around volunteering, giving back, and making a difference.

Millennials don't care about fundraising events

This is a big one. I hear this all the time from different nonprofit and fundraising blogs. Millennials don't seem to care about going to events. How do I get Millennials to be interested in my event?

Well to answer this question, you have to first be willing to throw the standard fundraising event with a long program of talking heads and dry chicken right out the window. Hell, that isn't just boring to young people. That's boring to everyone!

I'm not saying that luncheons and galas don't make money. They definitely do. In fact, I've planned multiple six-figure galas.

My point is that you need to always be looking for ways to make these traditional events more exciting to guests, especially if you want them coming back year after year.

Give people a reason to want to go.

Also, most millennials aren't yet at a point in their careers where they can drop $300+ on a seat, and also participate in your auction. If you do have tables at your dinner full of millennials, chances are, they where invited to fill seats by their employer or in some cases, their parents who actually have the money to sponsor a table.

If you do want to have an event that young professionals are attracted to, try hosting something that has more of a networking model. Beer tastings and things like it are very popular because tickets can be cheaper, guests can mingle as much as they like and have the opportunity to make connections, and then they can come and go as they please.

You don't have to host an event around alcohol if it doesn’t fit with your organization, but I do recommend having drinks and food available. Both help people feel more comfortable in social situations, plus it encourages people to stay longer.

If you do have to have some sort of talking portion to get your message out, I recommend keeping it well under 15 minutes. About 5 minutes is solid gold.

There are some ways to get your message out and interact with guests without bringing in the talking heads.

An easy way to accomplish this is to have a few photo heavy slideshows going in strategic areas. Photos are a great way to connect with people emotionally, without having to have their full attention for a lengthy amount of time.

Plus, you can save money on printing fancy flyers.

Millennials don't donate to charities

There are two key points that I believe nonprofits miss that lead them to this conclusion.

Often times they are asking for an amount of money that their young target audience doesn't have, or isn't yet comfortable giving.

The other is that they don't know how to market their organization in a way that appeals to this crowd, and therefore take the lack of response for general indifference.

Both of these problems can be solved by doing some research. Really get to know this target age group that would be your desired audience.

First, get rid of how you think they will respond, or how you wish they would, and really take the time to get to know them.

Do you currently have young people willing to volunteer, but aren't donors?

They are an excellent group to start with. They may not be giving funds now, but they are willing to not only spread the word about you, but also give you their most valuable asset- time.

Organizations also set themselves up to miss great opportunities for building lasting relationships with future donors because they think that volunteers will always be volunteers.

That's not necessarily true. If you cultivate the relationship correctly, you can make some amazing life long partners for your organization. If someone is volunteering for you, it's a great and easy way to get to know them, spend time with them so they actually get a real sense of the team, and build trust with them.

As a part of getting to know your young audience, you also need to become aware of whether or not you're marketing to the right segment in that group. Millennials in their early thirties with stable careers are a very different crowd than those right out of college who may or may not have a stable job yet.

The next step is to market to them in a way that actually gets through.

My generation grew up with advertising. Everywhere. On everything. So, we're less sensitive to it. To the point where we kinda don't see it at all. True story.

My point? Find out how your young audience wants to find out about you, and make it easier for them. Maybe they go to certain related sites to find volunteer opportunities. Maybe they're more into meeting people organically in person. Maybe it’s social media.

There are tons of creative ways to build relationships with this crowd. My one piece of advice about any kind of marketing is to keep the amount of words you use to a minimum.

So go get ‘em!

With so many things being artificial today, including the news we hear, I think that young people will continue to search for real connection and contribution, now more than ever. I don't think wanting to make a difference will ever go out of style.

I hope this post gave you some helpful insights into how to work with young people, and also challenged some of the limiting beliefs you might have had about being able to get them interested in your cause.

What have you found works for getting young people engaged? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Quierra Trammel

Tribe Table, Oakland, CA, United States