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5 Ways to Engage Modern Donors

Much has been written about how to approach Millennials. (As a Gen Xer, I’d argue too much.) As the first “digital native” generation—that is, they grew up with technology—are the rules of communication really that different?

If you answered yes, you’d be right. And wrong.

From Matures to Millennials, the delivery of your message may vary (direct mail, email, text), but the basic principles of communication and engagement remain the same. Be authentic, be relevant, be present. These principles hold true generation after generation for one simple reason—they work.

The modern donor expects accessibility and transparency from the nonprofits they support. Today’s donors, particularly Gen X and Millennial donors, also want more access to your organization. Digital tools—website, social media, email blasts, online advertising—engage current donors.

Gen X and Millennials

If your engagement strategy isn’t targeting Gen X and Millennials, you need to start now.

As Gen X and Millennials enter the prime of their professional careers, start families, and yes, plan for retirement; their focus is more and more on the community around them. There is a strong desire to make lasting change and be part of something purposeful.

Many nonprofits have an aging donor base. The way you engage younger generations now, when they may not have large sums to donate, will be remembered when they have disposable income. Like any relationship, it’s about being there through the high and low times. Make them feel welcome and valued now because it will be too late to woo them later.

Don’t assume younger generations can’t donate. Yes, Millennials are carrying more student debt than any previous generation. Yes, Gen X is the first generation who won’t be financially better off than their parents. But both generations are passionate about making a difference in the world and more interested in having a direct impact than having possessions.

Aside from it being good policy to diversify your donor base and a smart way to sustain and grow your nonprofit, there’s also the “great wealth transfer” to keep in mind. We are in the early years of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in U.S. history as trillions of dollars pass to Gen X and Millennials from their parents and grandparents. While younger donors may not be able to make major gifts today, cultivating that relationship now will pay off in the long run.

Winning Engagement Strategies

Align your communications plans with the following characteristics to make sure your message appeals to the modern donor. Regardless of generation, these strategies keep donors informed and engaged.

Share and connect. The most frequent action taken by the modern donor is connecting with an organization’s social media. Use your website as a hub for donors to connect with you. Provide easy ways to share information about the specific causes that resonate with them.

Engagement, then participation. In our 24/7 culture, the modern donor doesn’t want to be bombarded with messages or endlessly solicited. Due to an oversaturation of information and messaging, audiences today are more likely to tune out irrelevant messages quicker than in the past. It is critical for nonprofits to provide consistent, relevant content and build a relationship with their contacts before asking for a commitment.

Authenticity is paramount. Trust and transparency are increasingly important for all donors; especially Gen X and Millennials. Both generations have grown up questioning the media and messages presented to them. Be direct and transparent about your mission and how you use donations. Incorporate peer testimonials wherever possible to add to the trustworthiness of your message.

Giving is social. With the rise in popularity of peer-to-peer campaigns and social fundraising, more and more donors want to raise money on behalf of causes that matter to them. These supporters can be powerful fundraising messengers, because they love to spread the word. Make sure you’re equipping these digital donors with the right tools to share your message and volunteer opportunities with their networks.

Involvement, not just awareness. More and more donors today—particularly Gen X, Millennials, and their successors—are interested in having an active, not just financial, involvement with the causes they support. They view themselves as collaborators, not hands-off donors.

Remember those communications principles from earlier? Be authentic, be relevant, be present. Keep those three tenets at the heart of your engagement strategy to match your messaging to what your donors care about.

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