• Stein Strategies LLC

Leaning into younger donor’s motivations - Part III

Updated: May 29, 2020

This is Part III of my three-part blog on why now is the time nonprofits should be strategizing on retaining their younger donors. Part I focused on how philanthropic younger donors are and their growing wealth capacity. Part II dived into how younger donors give and where they get their information.

This week I’m wrapping up with a look into what motivates younger donors and how nonprofits can further cultivate this cohort.

What’s important to younger donors?

Like all generational cohorts, Millennials have unique motivations that the for-profit world is catering to and nonprofits should be as well. According to the Millennial Impact Report, a 10-year survey of more than 150,000 millennials, a few key characteristics jumped out at me.

· Millennials make philanthropic decisions based on personal, not digital, connections.

· Millennials have a desire to build authentic, personal relationships with the people and causes they serve.

· They enjoy participating in social experiences and sharing share information about their cause through a broad social network.

· Trust is of the utmost importance in millennial giving decisions.

  • As a way to build trust, Millennials will actively research an organization before donating or getting involved. According to the survey, half of Millennial parents always research charities before donating, compared to 37% of both Generation X and Baby Boomers.

· Millennials prioritize issues and people over institutions.

  • This data point is cited by almost every study done on Millennials. Millennials are motivated less by an institution and more by specific causes or issues. They are less loyal to organizations than their predecessors. Cause for Change by Karen Dunn Saratovsky and Derek Feldmann looked at this characteristic in-depth and I highly recommend this reading.

· Millennials are motivated to give and volunteer-based on co-worker's participation.

· Millennials want to engage their minds as well as their hands in the service of causes.

· Millennials want to know that their donation is making a difference.

  • This data point is also cited by almost every study done on Millennials. CAPTRUST found 60% of Millennials say they are more inclined to give if they can see their gift’s impact.


Cultivating your younger donors will require a different approach than what worked for older generations. Younger donors need to trust the organization, have ways to get involved with the organization, and see the impact of their giving. They care about causes and issues as opposed to institutions.

Consider all the ways your nonprofit invites donors to get involved and how you can expand those opportunities. This could look like volunteering for a specific event, inviting participation into a specific fundraising initiative, or board recruitment. One way that to cultivate younger donors that I think is often ignored, but would be wise to consider is inviting more supporters under the age of 40 on the Board or Board Committees.

With impact messaging of the utmost importance, I turn to The 2019 Burk Donor Survey’s recommendation, “Evidence-based information and high-quality acknowledgment – the things that inspire donors to give more generously – are often withheld from donors who give modestly as a cost-saving measure. However, failing to offer donors the things that would retain their support actually serves to keep donors giving below their level of ability (or not renewing their contributions at all).”

Ensure your acknowledgments, impact reports, marketing materials, and newsletters explain how fundraising dollars are making a difference. Have some of those materials available on your website (which should be mobile-friendly).

Ensure the messaging is mission and data-focused and provide ways for younger donors to share the message on social media.

Consider ways to partner with businesses for corporate sponsorships and workplace giving initiatives as a way to appeal to younger donors.

Younger donors are more philanthropic than their predecessor generations, are poised to be the wealth holders of society, and are passionate about mission and impact. They give with their heart. Nonprofits may have to pivot significantly in order to attract and retain this demographic, but I submit that the efforts should be embraced not as a burden, but as an investment in the future.

*There is a plethora of resources out there for your nonprofits to dive deep into attracting and retaining younger donors. This blog post is far from exhaustive and I encourage nonprofits to explore the interesting data and good advice available on younger donors.

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