A very popular topic in fundraising circles these days has been the infamous "Millennial Generation" or "Gen Y" and how they are changing the donation game. 

I recently attended a Millennial Donor Summit which was presented as a fully virtual conference. Delegates could interact live with one another and with presenters through video and chat functions. 

Today, AFP dedicated a full newsletter to addressing this very issue.

But, why does it matter and what does it all mean?

There seem to be some unspoken fears about this new generation of donors that the conversation is trying to address:
  • How can/should charities reach out through social media - a tool most of us still don't understand?
  • Will those seemingly detached hoards who float about all day connected to an iPod ever become engaged in their communities?
  • What will happen to us all if they are not as philanthropic as other generations?

What is emerging from this huge conversation is that though millennials like to communicate via online media and that while Google might be the first point of interaction with a non-profit or charity, there is little that differentiates them from donors belonging to an older demographic. 

Millennials also like to be connected with in a personal way, to be engaged and to be given a chance to become passionate, to be involved, to be asked for gifts and to be offered information about the impact of their participation.

From my perspective, now is the right time to be reaching out to members of this new generation of donors and offering opportunities for meaningful involvement and exceptional stewardship. My guest blog post yesterday at The Fundraising Coach website makes the suggestion that we need to start re-thinking the old rule of measuring engagement by donation-dollar values. 

What will this look like when it arrives via text message!

Our most engaged younger donors often fall below the "stewardship radar" because the dollar value of their support can be lower than our wealthiest donors. However, it makes sense to begin investing now in these individuals who are thought-leaders for their own generation if we hope to build a philanthropic culture for the future. 

Nothing new, just a need to take the time to offer a personal touch, to step out from behind your website and say "thanks" or offer an invitation to visit, volunteer, join the board...

I read some good news this morning. 

A recent research report published in
The NonProfit Times suggests that 55% of Generation Y (1981-91) Canadians give to charity and that on average, they give $325 (I'm assuming this is annually). The total works out to a total of about $800 million in gifts from this group.

Not bad considering this is $800 million from people who have been in the workforce for less than ten years and many of whom are paying off student loans and saving up for their first homes!

The way I look at this, though this Gen Y group still represents the least engaged market segment overall, those donors who fall into the 55% may be more passionate about giving since it's not as prevalent among their peers as in the case with older population segments. These people are choosing to do something that 45% of their peers choose not to do.

The problem is that most donor recognition circles start well above the $325 donor mark. Often, special events are offered to $1,000+ annual donors. A hand-signed letter from the ED or CEO or President is reserved for "leadership gifts" (translate: larger than $325). Lunch dates with the Director of Development are limited to major gift donors. 

Maybe it's time to stop thinking about our top donors in terms of dollar values? 

Fraser Green recently tweeted, "if i see one more donor report pic with guys in suits fondling a GIANT CHEQUE i'm gonna hurl - what about gary's $50? doesn't he matter?"

What about taking a look at that Gen Y donor list and reaching out personally to the top 10% - the ones who have made at least 2 gifts in 5 years, the ones that are monthly supporters? It may be early to talk about bequests and legacy gifts, but the special touch from you now is going to make your organization top of mind when the smart Gen Y people are making wills to protect their new families and homes.

I get a personalized, hand-signed thank you letter from 2 of the 10-12 charities my family supports annually. Guess which two are in our estate plans?

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved