Stop Trying to Engage Me (Tips for Nonprofits from a Millennial)

Speaking as a millennial, I’m tired of reading about myself. We apparently act as one unified blob. We accept or reject brands, pick up or shoot down new trends and we can make or break a lot of new businesses.

And yet somehow brands are still after us, despite the exhausted chase. They’re constantly looking to “speak our language” in hopes that we’ll realize their cool factor and tell all of our friends via Twitter.

But here’s the thing, most brands—nonprofits included—make the mistake of trying too hard. Simple as that. You strive to engage millennials and end up turning more away than if you had not tried in the first place.

So here’s the real scoop, from my millennial brain to your marketing team.

Cut the Fluff

In a generation that converses in 140 characters or less, we know how to communicate quickly. We’re not saying you need to abbreviate your conversations (please avoid using acronyms when talking with us—C U L8R eighth grade), but don’t feel the need to push the small talk.

This is particularly applicable when it comes to email correspondence. One sentence emails that answer our questions directly are perfectly acceptable (and perhaps prefered). If you must leave a voicemail tell us what you need, rather than leaving a generic “give me a call when you get a chance”.

Bottom line: value our time as you would any other professional connection.

Give Millennials Control

Okay, I don’t mean hand the reins over entirely.

But your volunteers need to feel some ownership. This isn’t summer camp, and you’re not their counselor. By now, most millennials are in their twenties or early thirties and they’re perfectly capable of handling some responsibility. Give them instructions and let them do their thing. Only offer guidance if they explicitly ask for it.

The volunteer programs I’ve worked for in the past who’ve treat me like a capable adult are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. Cater to our strengths—ask for opinions and then actually take our unique views into account. I realize all jobs are important, but if you have younger volunteers be sure to pass off the simpler tasks to them and make your millennial volunteers feel genuinely useful.

Embrace Your Nerdy Dad Factor

Don’t try to be one of us. People are under this impression that we’re an elite clique—like those cool cheerleaders and jocks sitting at an exclusive lunch table. Just because I was born in the 90s and you weren’t doesn’t mean I won’t converse with you like a normal human.

The rule here is simple: trying to be cool makes you uncool.

Don’t DM us on Twitter or send us a Snapchat. Email us or call us. (Believe it or not, we are capable of holding a conversation on the phone.)

Millennials will support your nonprofit because they see it as a worthy cause, not because you made a super hip post on Instagram or Facebook. You are doing amazing work in the world—show us that and we’ll be on board, 100%.

If you let us get involved, truly involved, we’ll back your nonprofit and its work through and through (and you didn’t even have to get a hip tattoo or dye your hair blue).

What strategies is your nonprofit using to engage millennials?


Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

June 30, 2014

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