marketing to millennials / jonny goldstein

September 10, 2015; Business 2 Community

When it comes to giving, millennials have their typical haunts and habits. A propensity for constant contact and self-documentary have made them known as the “Uber-Me” generation, yet data and advice on how to engage them counters the idea that they think they’re special. All the talk about how to scout out millennials in their online habitats through involvement can hide truths about how to engage with people in general.

There are a few main schools of thought about millennial engagement:

  1. Engage with millennials because they are the future.
  2. Don’t bother with millennials; boomers are where the money’s at.
  3. You can engage with millennials, but mainly through volunteering and empowerment.

Each school has equal merits and flaws. For example, let’s say your nonprofit goes with the first school and targets millennials for donations. But then you find out that only one percent of millennials make over $100,000 a year and that about 28 million of them make less than $10,000 a year. Yikes.

Then you decide to play safe with the second school and target your ever-staid boomers. You could then scout out these NCCS statistics from 2011, which show that people in lower income ranges actually give a higher percentage of their income compared to those in the middle range. You now realize that small amounts add up and represent significant sources of funding.

Let’s say you’re now open to millennials, but discover the third school and this Business 2 Community post, with its three tactics to involve millennials: let them shape the solution, use skills-based volunteering, or host marathon brainstorming sessions. But then you check out Blackbaud’s 2013 report of American giving, which shows that matures (42 percent) actually volunteer more than Gen Y’s (33 percent). Without a solid strategy, you could go to an awful lot of trouble to create initiatives that yield few results or—gasp—attract old people.

But does growing up with a lot of technology really affect your desire to give or get involved? A definitive answer is elusive; what’s easy to find is data showing that Gen Y’s are more likely to go on a charity run and give through crowdfunding and that older people tend to stay on the couch and write bigger checks. It’s nice to get demographic data in neat little packages yet hardly surprising that younger people have more energy and older people have more money.

Overall, age in general is probably more telling of giving habits than demographic characteristics. For example, this 1994 study of 20 years of UK giving data found that younger people at the time (i.e., boomers and Gen X) didn’t give very much compared to previous generations. Yet, twenty years later, here they are giving with gusto. As the study also points out, “The likelihood of being a giver increases with age, income, education and wealth. These factors also affect positively the size of donations. Controlling for the effects of being a giver or not, charitable giving is a ‘luxury.’ That is, if income rises by a certain proportion, giving rises by a larger proportion.” What conclusion can we draw from all this? That you should raise small and large donations from young and old people, now and in the future? Because, yes?

Also lost in this discussion is how millennials see themselves in the giving situation, with reports now in that they simply want to be treated like normal human beings. Another overlooked fact is that younger people are early adopters for initiatives that attract other demographics, as we can see from Charity: Water’s birthday giving and the Ice Bucket Challenge. In a previous NPQ piece, Rick Cohen nicely stated that “making judgments about the behavior and interests of millennials compared to boomers is fraught with the danger of oversimplification.”

Ultimately, is the millennial distinction helpful? Perhaps it is, simply because nonprofits will always play a generational tug-of-war with their resources. The “how to engage millennials” debate is also good at dispelling the myth that young ’uns are apathetic and self-centered. Neither a rare species nor special snowflakes, millennials are like any demographic: a generation connecting with the world in its own way given its particular temporal circumstances.—Amy Butcher