Planned Parenthood & Tumblr: Nimble Nonprofits Need Online Engagement

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TUMBLR! / Golden Owl

July 25, 2016; New York Times and UK Fundraising

New research from UK-based organizations Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and YouGov reinforces the obvious: Young people like their gadgets and are using technology more frequently than their senior counterparts to participate in a wide range of activities, including engaging with, and giving to, nonprofit organizations.

The findings, appropriately gathered online, show that the only area in which young people in Britain (classified between the ages of 18 and 34) outpace the giving habits of older adults is when technology is used as the sole medium to make a gift. According to the study, Appetite for Donation, 34 percent of donors age 18–34 have made a gift online compared to just 17 percent of donors over 65. In addition, 62 percent of 18–34 year old donors believe they will give online in the next year compared to 33 percent of donors over 65.

These findings out of Britain do not drastically differ from what has previously been revealed about giving behavior and engagement preferences among younger demographics in the United States, a topic that NPQ has covered on one or two occasions.

The 2013 Blackbaud study, The Next Generation of American Giving, found that while Baby Boomers (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) “dominate charitable giving,” it is the Generation X and Y populations—defined in the study as those born between 1965–1980 and 1981–1995, respectively—that reported an increasing frequency of giving through online mediums as opposed to direct response vehicles.

While these findings are not necessarily earthshattering, the surge of online giving and engagement, thanks in large part to younger online users, has motivated many organizations at home and abroad to consider the benefits of delivering their messages via personal devices in a concise and compelling way. According to the book, Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits, millennials in particular are more likely to prefer using a smartphone to any other device, and 84 percent of donations made by this generation are made online. The data is loud and clear and, as the British study suggests, should encourage charities not to overlook the advantages of investing in technological channels like mobile applications and social media sites, as they can yield worthwhile results—results, perhaps, in the form of the next generation of donors.

And it seems that many organizations are paying attention to this shifting donor behavior. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent survey, Fundraising in a Multichannel World, compiled the thoughts of nearly 500 development professionals on the future of digital fundraising and what their shops are doing to remain proactive. The survey found that three out of five respondents invested additional organizational resources toward digital fundraising channels, with 60 percent additional resources going toward social media, 47 percent additional resources going toward search engine [optimization], 46 percent additional resources going toward email, and 36 percent additional resources going toward mobile and text messaging.

But maximizing the opportunity that these various channels provide isn’t just about securing the gift. Organizations like Planned Parenthood of New York (PPNYC) are recognizing the value of digital channels to elevate awareness and increase engagement. PPNYC has recently turned to microblogging site Tumblr to tell its story to a younger generation, with the hope that creating an understanding of the organization’s history and purpose will translate into increased support.

In an effort to connect with young potential supporters born after the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and simultaneously remove the stigma commonly associated with abortion, PPNYC is using Tumblr as a messaging platform, personally illustrating the impact its services have had on the individuals who have received care, volunteered, or worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Following a similar model of the super-popular photo-storytelling site Humans of New York (HONY), the Care that Counts campaign aims to educate and empower a younger generation to find their voice and get involved.

“We really are doing this partially to get a younger audience engaged in supporting Planned Parenthood,” said Neil Kraft, the chief executive of Kraftworks, the advertising agency that partnered with PPNYC on this project. “They do, to some extent, take it for granted.”

As organizations like PPNYC and others continue to navigate the evolution of preferred donor giving and engagement vehicles, the philanthropic and technological shrewdness of younger generations will do anything but subside. This is a time of transition during which shifting demographics will ultimately influence dominant giving methods as well as how organizations report to donors the impact and return on their charitable investment. Although the millennial population isn’t topping the giving charts quite yet, they are making it be known how they want to participate in causes now and in the future. Hopefully organizations will continue to listen.—Lindsay Walker