As a proud Gen-Xer, I will admit to a certain amount of perplexedness over the amount of hand-wringing that goes on over “Reaching Millennials” amongst nonprofits. I guess all the Gen-Xers have been reached?
I suspect every generation has had concerns and worries about how to reach the following generation at some point or another:
“Why is their music so loud? Why can’t they like the Beatles more?” – circa 1992, heard in homes, churches, schools, etc. across America.
Churches struggle with the same problem. For years now we keep hearing that the American Church has a membership problem and that the only way to combat it is to reach the younger generation. Some churches have adapted, and continue to adapt well. Others, not so much.
Let’s take a look at three ways they have been successful.
1. Don’t be afraid to upend traditions.
20 years ago, most churches had a traditional worship service at 11am on Sunday, and a contemporary worship service at 8:30am on Sunday. There are still some churches that have it that way, but many understood that they needed to adapt to their audience. A contemporary service would be more likely to draw visitors at 11am than it would at 8:30am, right? Especially younger visitors, with or without families. And yet, it took years to convince members that ending the traditional worship service at 11am was not going to cause the Apocalypse. I stopped counting how many meetings I sat through listening to this debate.
If you have something in place that is stopping Millennials from attending your events, or volunteering, or donating, remove it. Even if that’s the way it’s always been done.
If your only event of the year is a golf tournament, it may not be such a mystery why the average age of your attendees is 60+ (that age group is important for sure, but you don’t have to choose between one or the other). This event from the Jewish Federation of Delaware definitely breaks the mold. And we probably don’t have to tell you how successful many nonprofits were by leveraging the summer Pokémon Go craze. These things work for the same reason that bible studies at breweries work.
Use technology. Millennials are digital natives, so it’s no surprise that they feel comfortable using and prefer electronic forms of communication. Make sure you are using mobile-friendly online donation pages and have a presence on social media (if for nothing other than to receive communication, not just blast it out). A friend of mine is a pastor and takes tweets during his sermon. He incorporates those questions on the fly, and his congregation loves him for it.
2. Don’t preach at them. Fix things with them.
This one represents a huge advantage for nonprofits.
Millennials do not want to hear about how bad they are, or how guilty they should feel about something, they want action. That’s why they are leaving the church in droves, and self-identifying as “Nones.” They distrust churches because they hear one thing but see another from them (or inaction).
Along the same lines, research on millennials by Derrick Feldmann suggests that this generation responds more to positive imagery rather than negative (think: a boy playing near a recently completed and gushing water well vs. playing in the dirt). As such, you can capitalize on FOMO (fear of missing out). Educate them about your mission and present a case for support, but make it all about how they can join in the winning fight and make a difference in the ways that people before them have.
3. Report on outcomes.
The excellent Millennial Impact Report series by Achieve and The Case Foundation time and time again proves that millennials support causes, not organizations. As such, they demand the reporting of outcomes, and want their efforts to be directly tied to those outcomes.
Millennials flock to churches that they see doing measurable good in the world. Knowing that a church is out on the streets acting out the values of their faith (serving the poor, feeding the hungry, etc.) is more important than worship style, demographics or any of the other superficial reasons people choose churches for.
Not only should nonprofits get this generation (and all generations) involved in the activities of their mission, they should report early and often on their positive outcomes. Millennials see donating (time and money) as an investment, and investors want to know the return on their investment.
Use your thank yous as a chance to hammer home all the good they did through concrete metrics.
There are a few ideas for how to reach the elusive millennials. I can tell you from living with a couple of them that they aren’t some bizarre, exotic creature living in the wild; they are devoted to their phones and technology (which is something you can harness) and they want to make a difference.
YOU want to make a difference too, right?
Figure out how to reach them where they are, educate them about how you are making a difference, and remove barriers, which will allow them to make that difference with you.