Nonprofits marketing to millennials—seems to be the common conundrum popping up everywhere you look online and at every nonprofit conference you attend. But why?

Because millennials (or Gen Y) will have the largest buying power in the U.S. by 2017. Right now, they’re a very close second to baby boomers in current buying power.

Basically, this is because there are more millennials in the U.S. than any other age group. Sorry Gen X, you’ve been bumped. Many organizations still prefer to consider Gen Y to be a demographic they’ll target “someday,” but the truth is, if you want to engage the largest audience, Gen Y has the most targets.

But let’s stop here for a second and ask that common question that may be running around in your mind.

MannequinsShould My Nonprofit Target Millennials?

Before we talk about the whys and hows, it’s important to decide if marketing to the millennials is a priority for your organization right now.

Maybe it’s not. And if you come to that conclusion, that’s okay—I’m one of those pesky millennials, and I’m not offended. The simple truth is, your nonprofit may be targeting an older audience at this point, and if that makes sense for you, go for it. The important thing is that you know who you’re targeting.

Which takes you to one of the most important questions to consider.

Who is Your Target Audience?

Baby Boomers? The 40+ crowd? Parents? Empty nesters? Retirees? If you haven’t answered this question yet, chances are that your marketing efforts are not particularly effective. If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, you’re probably not reaching anyone effectively at all.

Once you decide who your target audience is, you need to craft messaging that speaks to that demographic. If you’re not interested in speaking to millennials right now, okay. But here’s the skinny: You will need to create a plan to reach them eventually.

Why Does Gen Y Matter?

Millennials are the first-ever generation that will run America for at least 40 years straight. In fact, millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than even the Baby Boomers.

This is significant information for nonprofits—what it means is, over the next four decades, no demographic will have the size and financial resources to influence your organization more than Gen Y.

When You Want to Woo Millennials, How Do You Do it?

The good news is, millennials are generous and we care about giving. In fact, a 2010 survey found that 93% of millennials said they gave to a cause. So my generation isn’t exactly a tough nut to crack. If you discover the secret sauce to reaching us now, not only will you create better marketing campaigns, but you’ll increase your chances of acquiring lifelong donors.

Interested now? Here are five things to keep in mind if you decide to target millennials:

1. Communicate with them on their terms and offer a variety of ways to donate. Millennial donors are more likely to give to a nonprofit if the request comes from a friend or family member. Since millennials typically connect through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, it’s important for nonprofits to establish a solid social media presence. If you’re not posting and tweeting, get social. Now.

Younger givers gravitate toward online donations. But event fundraising, monthly debit programs and mobile/text donations can work as important giving methods as well. Typically, the younger the donors, the greater the number of ways they give.

2. Encourage volunteering. Millennial philanthropists are broadening the definition of philanthropy to include not only financial gifts, but contributions of time. Keep this in mind when you think about looking for your next generation of donors. Volunteers often turn into consistent donors.

3. Don’t dumb down your message. Keep it quick (come on, we’re used to 140-character limits) but make it smart. Look at the millennials’ pop-culture heroes—overachievers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. While the stereotype might be that this generation is irresponsible, the truth is, many of us are already saving for retirement.

4. Don’t be afraid to engage with us. Millennials are used to interacting with brands on social media, and they’re happy to voice their opinion. And we listen to each other, so a friend’s negative opinion can make a difference. Yelp and similar review sites are not just for restaurants—we look there for advice about all types of businesses and organizations. If you want to influence our decisions, join our conversations. We’re going to have them, with or without you.

5. Establish your organization’s value. We’re used to streaming music and reading news online for free—but that doesn’t mean we won’t dip into our pockets when we find a product we love or a worthy cause to support. It’s all about value. If you establish an emotional connection with a millennial and demonstrate the value your nonprofit has in the world, you could win a fan for life.

Think about this: Gen Y is a generation that’s been shaped by the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and disasters like 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. What does this mean? We’re tech savvy and socially conscious—but at the end of the day, we care about relationships.

What are your thoughts about nonprofits marketing to millennials? When you’re ready to talk to us, we’ll be all ears.

img via dyobmit

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Matt Spitsen

Matt Spitsen

Managing Editor at Nonprofit Hub
Matt Spitsen is the Managing Editor of Nonprofit Hub, an online resource to help nonprofits become more remarkable. As a millennial living in Chicago, IL, Matt provides direct insight on how nonprofits must evolve to be relevant to his generation. Through his experience in leading nonprofit organizations, he understands the challenges many nonprofits face in evolving their organizations and embracing marketing and fundraising trends.
Matt Spitsen

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