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  • Will Swan

Fundraising to Younger Donors is Letting Go

When I started my career in fundraising in the '90s, fundraising services were pretty linear. For a young nonprofit, it might start by creating awareness by building a base of names and support through events. Once there were enough names, then they could mail them. Once they had enough revenue from donors, they could test direct mail donor acquisition. If that worked, they could roll the program out and maybe support it with print ads in local or regional publications.


Everything was pretty linear before the internet was adopted by fundraisers as a viable fundraising channel 10 or so years ago, But even with email, the online channel of choice, there are formulas for what to do and what not to do. How to avoid spamming, how to create a good subject line, how long or how short, email frequency, etc. Some organizations are just now starting to understand how best to segment their email list and how to test segment and message.


But while many fundraisers have been building email programs, a triple header of events has emerged that has transformed the future of fundraising: the smartphone, the increased usage and proliferation of social media, and younger donors (millennials and the emerging centennials). This combination of younger donors and media has exploded into a diverse mix of efforts that defies the rules most traditional fundraisers have followed.


For younger donors there are no more "controls" or other standard operating procedures. Much of the established practice of obtaining donations has rapidly evolved into a mix of efforts, defined by younger donors, that fit younger donors' lifestyles and their own objectives for giving to charities. Giving back is core to younger donors' lives, and they surround themselves with people and organizations that share their values (see this Forbes article about millennials and social responsibility).

Millennials and centennials will be the largest demographic for years to come.

So, what is the answer to acquiring and cultivating the support of these younger donors? Counter intuitive to many or traditional fundraisers' instincts, success comes from letting go. Create online environments where younger donors can interact and make their own choices. But, when creating these environments it is very important to track the choices that younger donors make and gently give them more of what the analytics show they prefer.


While the biggest money is currently in obtaining larger gifts from Boomers and the Silent Generation, fundraisers are missing a massive opportunity if they don't form a younger donor fundraising strategy as soon as possible.