How Millennials Give To Charity

Monday, April 06, 2015

When it comes to charitable giving, the millennial generation (aka Gen Y, born between 1979-2000) believes in "give as you go" rather than "giving back." This distinction is anything but trite. The organizations that consistently push "giving back" miss out on cultivating an emotional connection with this generation. Millennials were told they could make a difference in their daily lives through actions great and small, and the phrase "giving back" disconnects from this lifelong value because it implies waiting until one has set up a certain lifestyle and amassed a certain amount before getting involved.

Because millennials believe in doing what they can now, they're involved in giving at an earlier age and as such the dollar amounts currently may not be as high. This is partly changing, however. The oldest of the millennials will be 36 this year. This means that the oldest of this generation are starting to reach a point in their careers where they can give more than they have in the past and in 10-15 years will be primed to be major financial donors.

Millennials grew up working in groups in school, with their individual actions affecting the entire team. Because of this, they place a high value on getting involved and want to be actively engaged in the charitable organizations they support. This is great news because it means non-profits have the opportunity to cultivate a donor base that is interested in doing more than handing over a credit card. This is tough news because it means that non-profits have a generation of donors who aren't necessarily qualified to get involved beyond handing over a credit card. Finding ways to get millennials engaged in the organization will be key in keeping them as donors. This generation was told over and over again that they were the ones who would change the world, exhorted to not waste their lives, and they need the constant feedback that their involvement with the non-profit matters. If millennials feel that they're not valuable to an organization, they'll find one where they are and they'll take their money with them.

In addition, the "everyone's a winner" mentality translates directly to how Gen Y expects to be treated when it comes to charity involvement. Growing up in an era where everyone got a trophy and everyone was equal — equally VIP — millennials expect to be treated as VIPs, regardless of donation amounts. Only treating donors who give major dollars as VIP will mean that the millennials giving what they can now will find another organization where they feel respected. This may not seem like a big deal now, but the organizations who neglect this part of their donor base will be seriously hurting in ten years.

For wedding and event industry professionals who also work with non-profits on fundraising events, this will directly impact your work. VIP tables at galas, where people are seated for a charity auction, who gets photographed, how names appear on stationery and signage, swag and gifting, will all need to be considered through the lens of both honoring Boomer and GenX donors who place a high value on a hierarchy VIP status that rewards individual achievement and on cultivating the millennial donors who are involved now and understanding their view that everyone is VIP and should be treated as such. This obviously makes non-profit event marketing and production trickier, but it's the work that needs to be done if the organizations want to stay in business.

Treating high-dollar donors as the non-profit's VIPs and ignoring the way millennials relate to giving means sacrificing the future of an organization for the sake of "right now" donations. Changing everything for the millennials and ignoring the way Boomers and Xers prefer to give means sacrificing the future because the "right now" is no longer sustainable. The tyranny of the urgent tends to be the unofficial MO of many non-profits, but the smart ones will collaborate with their event pros to create "both/and" strategies that keep both the older generations and the millennial generations on board.

Originally published November 2013

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