A study published last summer in the Journal of Philanthropy confirmed what many university and college development offices have long since known: compared to previous generations, Millennials are far less likely to give back to their alma mater.
And yet, according to Blackbaud's Next Generation of American Giving report, this is not because Millennials are stingy or poor. They are on average sending donation checks – or more aptly given this cohort, tapping tablet and smartphone buttons – totaling $481 per year. So yes, they are still giving, but just not to their school because the huge amount of debt they owe to their alma mater compared to previous generations, the fact that they don't believe in the value of their degree, and so on.
The bad news is that these problems have the potential to erupt into a crisis; especially since many schools face a perfect storm of budget cuts and increased enrollment – which makes (dwindling) alumni donations more important than ever.
The good news is that, as noted above, Millennials have not sworn off giving. They are just looking for something different than their parents and grandparents; something that appeals to their personal values and beliefs, rather than their academic affiliations and loyalties. As Derrick Feldmann, the founder of a website that focuses on Millennials and social good, recently told CNBC.com: “Millennials are a primed generation willing and wanting to do good action into causes and issues they care about. Millennials are very excited to do something good for the cause”.
In light of this noble perspective, below are 5 tips to help development offices get Millennials to give back:
1. Make Donating Fast & Simple
Once the Milennial has decided they want to donate, make sure the "process of donating" is as fast and as simple as possible - it should take them less than 60 seconds to donate. Millenials will not go through the process if your desktop or mobile form is long and cumbersome. Partner with an online payment processor (such as PayPal or Google Wallet) and/or make it easy for them to sign up using their Facebook account in order to capture their public information right and credit card information the first time around.
2. Enhance the Value of Degrees
Many Millennials do not think that their degree is particularly valuable – and hence they allocate their donation dollars elsewhere. You can target this bleak perception in two ways: 1) offer incentives for Millenials to respond more frequently to surveys, which in turn boosts school rankings and makes their degree more valuable (note: educate them on understanding that the value of their degree goes up if their school is ranked higher); 2) help Millennials see the link between their donation dollars and school investments (e.g. new science and engineering building, etc.), which makes their degree much more valuable as well.
3. Set Ambitious Goals
Millennials embrace ambitious, often audacious goals. Plug into this attitude by running large campaigns with bold objectives – such as raising $1 million dollars by a certain deadline. Even better, turn it into a game that has different groups of alumni (e.g. different graduating classes, different faculties, etc.) competing against each other to see who can do the most good, in the shortest period of time. For winners of these competitions, you can give away donor badges or gifts/benefits that a larger donor would normally receive (but provide them at a discounted rate), so they begin to see the benefits of giving back.
4. Make Compelling Stories Easy To Share
Launch mini-campaigns around stories that bring the school to life, and elevate it from being a physical place into an appealing, cause-championing community. It's critical to make it easy for Millennials to share stories with their friends and peers, either through visible social media 'sharing' buttons that can pop out on their screen or through Peer-to-Peer networks.
5. Use Predicted Ask Amounts
And last, but certainly not least, grasping the capacity of Millennials to donate is only half of the picture – the other half is WILLINGNESS to donate. And development offices only get this full picture by using predictive analytics software, which delivers predicted ask amounts for each donor based on an analysis of various data sets (e.g. online behavior, historical interaction/engagement, Census data, and more). The Millenial group is a unique donor segment that is vitally important for a university's health, therefore, predicted ask amounts is an easy and simple way to gauge their interest in your university early on and to understand how much they're willing to give. They may not give large sums early on, but if you ask for the right amount NOW, you can keep them emotionally invested and engaged going forward into the long run. In addition, by using predicted ask amounts, you can begin to identify who some of the early "Major Donor" prospects may be and begin to cultivate them on a more personalized level.
The Bottom Line
The notion that Millennials are not donating to nonprofits is a myth, because they most certainly are; just not necessarily to their alma mater. However, development offices that follow the tips noted above will put and keep themselves on their Millennial donors’ radar screens, and dramatically increase their odds of winning over their hearts, minds and indeed, wallets.