3 Ways to Engage Millennials in Your Cause

Derrick Feldmann is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub. He is a sought-after speaker, author and researcher. He serves as president of Achieve, a research and design agency for causes. In addition, he leads The Millennial Impact Project, which is an ongoing study of millennials and how they engage with causes. Derrick is the founder of MCON, the nation’s premier event on millennials and social good.

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Lately, I’ve heard many nonprofit professionals label millennials (born 1980-2000) as a generation of slacktivists (slacker + activists)—great for sharing information about a cause on Twitter or helping YouTube videos go viral, but other than that, useless to fundraising and development.

I reject this label.

My team and I have spent the past six years studying millennials and their involvement with cause work and social good. We’ve found through all of our studies that millennials are the caring generation.

If you want to engage this generation of do-gooders, you should lead them on a three-step journey from helping to taking action, and then finally to giving.

Step 1: Give Them Feedback and Show Them the Story

In our research and case studies, the organizations that most successfully pique millennials’ desire to do good are the ones that continually provide feedback and show them the difference that’s being made along the way.

Take Generosity Water for example. Generosity Water is a global humanitarian organization dedicated to ending the clean water crisis in developing countries. As soon as you visit their homepage, you’re immediately drawn in with a video that shows you the need and tells you what actions you can take to alleviate that need. Generosity Water asks you to gather 16 friends and each pledge to give $3.33 a month for three months. At the end of the three months, you’ve raised $5,000, which is enough to fully fund a water project.

The strategy that sets this campaign apart is the constant feedback supporters receive throughout the process as well as the proof of impact at the end. Once you’ve helped fund a well, you receive project and community information, GPS coordinates of the well, photos of the well and community and a personalized plaque.

With peer fundraisers and millennial donors in particular, the process of learning how their gift was used is vital. Show them what actions are occurring on their behalf. Tell them the story.

Step 2: Ask Them to Donate Their Time and Their Network

We know that millennials treat all assets as equal. This means that, to the majority of them, assets such as time, money, skills, etc., are of equal importance when given to a cause. With the access we now have to technology, an individual who donates his or her voice may still give skills, time and money, and then go beyond these actions to the point of advocacy. In addition, donating one’s network involves leveraging professional and personal relationships to expose others to the cause.

Millennials will donate, but you must first offer them small actions to complete that eventually lead to larger engagement and finally lead to giving.

Step 3: Promote Actions that Lead to Donations

If you’re trying to engage millennials, start by introducing them to a cause. This may involve acquiring email addresses, hosting an event, etc. Your introduction should be leading them to the second step, which is to share your cause with their friends and family. Social media has revolutionized this second step. Since we now know that millennials view all assets as equal, we can understand that an individual is on a path to larger commitment when they share your cause on their digital networks.

Give them an opportunity to serve. Millennials are a social group and the large majority prefers to serve or volunteer with groups. They also like to blend their personal and professional interests, so leveraging a service opportunity with the availability to network and meet new people will increase participation.

Once a millennial has made it through the service step, they’re ready to personally support. Ask for a small donation first—$5 to $25 is a good first donation. Finally, the last step, you should be ready to give millennials the resources and motivation they need to ask others for money on your behalf.


Derrick Feldmann

September 15, 2015

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