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How Friends Attract Younger Donors, Pt. 1

MALF is pleased to present this three-part miniseries on Millennial donors, adapted with permission from a piece originally prepared by and for Library Strategies, our office management firm. We know that this is a topic of great interest to our membership.

Nearly 85 percent of employed Millennials (age 18-34) donated to a charitable cause last year, according to a recent Millennial Impact Report. That’s impressive in itself – and doubly so when you factor in that America’s youngest working generation is also its largest. Eighty-five percent of Millennials translates to 67 million donors!

Furthermore, data from a recent, “buzzy” Pew Research Center report certifies what front-line librarians have been saying for years: Millennials are active and proud library users, and (on the whole) use their local library more often than older generations. In short, if your Friends organization is not courting the largesse of these younger donors, you are almost surely leaving money on the table.

What’s the catch?

Millennials choose their causes, and how much to give, based on patterns and preferences that may come as a curveball to any fundraiser versed in what’s “tried and true” among older givers. Savvy library support organizations must learn both the best practices and faux pas of this new giving landscape.

Offer “Participatory” Giving Opportunities.

According to the Millennial Impact Report cited earlier, an astounding 64 percent of young people have participated (actively or passively) in a walk, run or cycle event for charity. Collectively, nonprofits netted an estimated $1.2 billion through such events in 2012 alone. That’s nearly double what participatory giving opportunities brought in back in 2002.

Young donors are disproportionately represented here, and the reasons for that are twofold. Young adults are not as affluent as their parents and grandparents. Participatory giving opportunities along the “Fun Run” model allow young people to give as little as $5.00 to a friend’s race fund, and still feel the peer affirmation and vicarious commitment of the person they are donating “through.” Under other circumstances, the donor might not view such a gift as appreciated or worth the effort.

Second, participatory giving opportunities allow a young donor unable to contribute substantial funds to have a comparable impact by freely offering their time and enthusiasm instead. (Unsurprisingly, parents and grandparents are oftentimes big contributors.)

Ramsey County Public Library in Minnesota and Person County Public Library in North Carolina are among the many who have had recent success with “Fun Runs.” Others add a fresh, library twist. Read-a-thons and overnight lock-ins have proven equally effective at marshaling pledges.

Emphasize Cause Over Organization.

This is a generation who thinks critically about who they give to and what impact their dollar is having. Furthermore, compared to their parents, few young donors are “brand loyal” – they will jump ship if another charity with an allied mission looks to be more effective.

For these reasons, mammoth nonprofits with multi-pronged missions have had trouble attracting and retaining younger donors in recent years. It’s not always easy for an organization like United Way to trace a clear line between donation and dividend.

Library support organizations should not expect young donors to rally to them “because libraries need our support.” Instead, cite the added value the Library is able to offer to the community because of private donations routed through the Friends or Foundation. For example: “Your donation of [$x] will allow us to add [x] new titles to our recently expanded children’s area.”

Assuming the money will be put towards the same purpose regardless, employing special asks for specific needs is the perfect way to harness this “cause over organization” mentality.

Hypothetical examples are sometimes appropriate, if based on sound math. In an end-of-year appeal, this might take the form of “In 2016, you donated [$x]. That’s the cost equivalent of [xx] one-on-one tutoring sessions at the Library or [xx]…”