The Next 25 Years- Engaging Millennials

News | March 9, 2016

by Caitlin Toynbee, Annual Giving Manager, ASCE Foundation

AFG: The Next 25 Years, a report released last year, identifies the increase of volunteers, especially Millennials, as a key trend facing our profession. Born between 1981 and 1997, Millennials are the next dominating force in politics, the economy, and business, and in 25 years will most likely be running your association. And I am one of them. By 2036, there will be 81.1 million of us, and this year we surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce.

As the AFG Report mentions, “the rise of Millennials in the workplace, as volunteers, and donors, has already begun to impact our organization.” We’re impacting all organizations in positive ways, but also are forcing nonprofits and membership organizations to re-assess how they engage their constituencies, distribute information, and provide involvement opportunities to all their members, not only Millennials. My generation is less likely to join membership associations and be members of nonprofits. How to get Millennials to stay members of your association? One way is to engage us through volunteer opportunities

This should not come as a surprise: Millennials care about issues, not organizations. According to the CEO of Achieve and researcher for The Millennial Impact Derrick Feldmann, “What motivates millennials is a desire to affect THEIR cause through YOUR organization with their friends. We are searching for organizations who will help us further the causes we are passionate about.

This passion is the top reason Millennials support a charitable cause, a recent study by insurer Country Financial found. Favorite charities include those that affect a family member or friend or have strong community ties. Connecting your association to their cause will be vital in getting and retaining your volunteers.

While Millennials find volunteering for a cause important, requirements for long-term involvement with strict guidelines do not appeal to us. Episodic, short-term volunteer opportunities are most popular and should be not be ignored. Most Millennials volunteer between 1 and 10 hours per year and are more likely to volunteer if they can leverage their skills or expertise. I find that I have the time and interest in a short-term volunteer opportunity, but like many my age, a commitment for several hours a week for months, especially with an in-person requirement, are not attractive.

Another important Millennial segment for associations is their own employees. As Millennials take an increasingly influential role in the workplace, our preferences and attitudes begin to subtly shape the culture. Relationships are important to my generation, so it should be no surprise that we have a desire to work with people we know and like, which then manifests in their preferences for company-sponsored cause programming and volunteer initiatives. Employee company-wide giving campaigns were the number-one cause initiative Millennials said they’ve been involved with at work. Connect us with the people we like and with opportunities that clearly make a difference. Engaged employees at work will increase your staff retention rates, but could also lead to a wider volunteer pool, and eventually donors.

When it comes to giving to and volunteering with causes, Millennials differ from previous generations in how they view the assets they can potentially donate. We may still give money, time, and skills, but we also view our social networks as valuable resources, and just as important as any money I may donate. Encourage association staff to think about nontraditional ways for Millennial to be involved, and don’t disregard the power they yield on social media.

Investing in my generation does not need to be complicated or expensive. But it needs to happen now. Nonprofits need to open their doors now to Millennials if they want a chance at cultivating them into long term members and donors. This means giving Millennials short and long term volunteer opportunities, the option to volunteer online (send emails on behalf of the organization, share posts on social media, etc.), and showing – specifically – the impact of membership dues and donations. Treat this new generation of workers, volunteers, and donors with respect and value, and they will provide you with decades of engagement, fun, and membership.

For association foundations looking for ways to engage Millennials, but also track and learn about other growing donor trends mentioned in AFG: The Next 25 Years, follow the group on Linkedin and consider attending the 2016 Annual Conference.

Background on the Next 25 Years Report

In 2015, the Association Foundation Group implemented a special initiative, AFG: The Next 25 Years. The project was designed to identify the unique opportunities and challenges facing the association foundations for the next 25 years, with a particular focus on the next 3‐5 years. The report discusses six trends; Organizational Leadership and Governance, Demographic and Donor Trends, Communications and Marketing Strategies, Technological Advances, Leveraging Analytics, and AFG Member Services.



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