“You need to Snapchat them.”

“They live on Snapchat. If you want millennials to donate you have to be an active Snapper.”

I cringed when I heard these words. As a millennial (I’m 21) who works professionally in the nonprofit space (I built an analytics tool for fundraisers) those two sentences physically pained me.

As a young person who has been involved in this industry for two years now I have been exposed to plenty of webinars, podcasts and slideshares. Something has always struck me about the presentations — they always seem to be from a consultant or a sales rep. Occasionally when I attend a conference, there is a speaker or presenter who actually works within a nonprofit.

I’d say 8 out of 10 presentations I come across are from someone who has a financial incentive.

That’s always irked me – not enough to not have my own presentations (I’ve held my fair share of “data analytics” webinars), but enough to know that it wasn’t 100% right.

That’s why as I sat and listened in on a webinar about “Engaging Millennials,” I actually felt ill. Please don’t snapchat your prospective donors. Just trust me on this one, don’t do it. Listening to this consultant preach the importance of social media was nauseating. There is no doubt in my mind that a Snaphchat from a fundraiser would overwhelmingly turn me off from any organization.

If I (the 21 year old millennial) received a “selfie” from a representative of any organization, for-profit or nonprofit, I would immediately be “creeped out.” The saying “any publicity is good publicity” generally holds true, but you don’t really want some 20-something-year-old taking a screenshot your snapchat selfie and reposting it on Twitter with the hashtag “#omgwhy.” That just isn’t where your time, money or energy should be spent.

Which leads me to this blog post.

I usually write about data and analytics because, well, that’s why I built my product – to help fundraisers better understand their organization’s data.  But, getting sick to my stomach during that webinar was enough of an inspiration to take some time to share how I think you should engage millennials. (Hint, no Snapchat involved.)

There are three key takeaways from this post:

  1. Younger people like to see (visually) where their donation (no matter how small) is going
  2. Younger people like to make donations when it is convenient for them
  3. Younger people need to be asked to donate

Within each section of this post I’ll share some of my personal experiences. Hopefully with these examples you’ll be able to more successfully engage millennial donors.

Let’s dive in.

Younger people like to see (visually) where their donation (no matter how small) is going

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. My peers (myself included) live on our cell phones. (If you’re interested in learning more about the actual addiction people my age have with their phones I suggest you read this.) We are constantly surrounded by visual distractions – tweets, instagrams, snapchats – you name it, we see it.

The thing is, we don’t read anything. Emphasis on the “anything” because it is so true. Instead, we skim. (More on this can be found here.) I can’t read that article because “I am too busy,” but I can “skim it, because I have a few seconds.” That’s how a millennial thinks. Unfortunately, that is how I frequently think. I can’t read something because I’m too busy needing to check my Twitter. Its paradoxical, but it’s true.

So how does this tie into showing your millennial donors where their donations are going? It means you have only a few seconds to convey to your millennial constituents how important their donation was (and how important a future donation will be).

Everyone likes to be thanked for their charitable giving, and conveying a sense of accomplishment to any donor can help retain them for the long-haul. A millennial isn’t going to read your email, but that same millennial, just like their parents, genuinely cares about where their donation went.

My suggestion is to copy Samaritan’s Purse.

Samaritan's Purse

Samaritan’s Purse has a super simple interface to track where your donation ends up going. If I make a donation I want to know exactly where my money is going, and not in the, “I want 100% of it to go towards the cause” type of way. I mean that I actually want to know where my (in this case) shoebox ends up. I want to know the name of the person whom my donation benefited. For millennials, conveying this sense of connection in a short period of time (a few seconds) is much more important than reminding us that you only have 5% overhead (which we all know is a myth anyway).

Samaritan's Purse shoe box

Younger people like to make donations when it is convenient for them

Millennials are busy people, even if it is artificially so, which means you need to make it convenient for them to donate.

What do I mean by convenient? A millennial probably isn’t going to:

  • fill out your web form
  • fill out your paper form

If they’re really passionate about your cause they might donate in person.

Most tried and true fundraising vehicles take some effort and attention on the part of the donor. Which makes sense, but for time-strapped millennials who can’t afford to put their phones down, you have to make donating a low effort, low attention event.

Generally, to make a donation you either have to fill out a form, share some personal information, or do something in between. At a minimum you have to share your credit card information.

There is an alternative though – disguise your engagement. Take for example freerice.com, quite possibly the best, most effective millennial (and gen Z) nonprofit engagement tool ever created.

Free Rice engagement

Freerice.com was developed and is maintained by the World Food Programme. It’s premise is unbelievably simple – a word pops up and you need to select its synonym on the page. Every time you choose the correct synonym, 10 grains of rice are donated through the World Food Programme.

This type of engagement is perfect for the millennial audience for two reasons:

  1. It’s convenient. I don’t even realize I’m supporting the World Food Programme by playing the free rice game. It’s only when I skim the website that I see it is provided by the World Food Programme and I realize that I am supporting their cause.
  2. It keeps me busy. Remember, as a millennial I am always busy, and playing a game with synonyms and rice graphics is a new way to occupy my time. I don’t have to think, I just click or tap my screen. This is a proven way to win over millennials -– don’t make them think.

This is the future of engagement. Direct mail works. Email marketing works. #GivingTuesday works. But eventually, somewhere down the line, fundraising through discrete, convenient methods like freerice.com will eventually one-up traditional fundraising methods, at least amongst the youngest group of charitable givers. (More on getting millennials attention can be found here.)

Younger people need to be asked to donate

Surprise surprise, I don’t do anything unless you ask me. Okay, that is a bit of a stretch, but not too much of one. Millennials and their younger peers are frequently disengaged unless directly prompted to do something. And, even when we are directly engaged we tend to have a short attention span.

So how can you combat this, while also keeping the “ask” convenient? Good question. Don’t make me think. (I’ve mentioned that concept a few times in this post, about time I plug the book by Steve Krug.)

A great example of this concept comes from the recent US presidential campaigns. Take for example the email appeal Hillary Clinton’s campaign sent out to supporters who had already donated to the campaign.

Clinton campaign engagement

Note the pre-filled and segmented “ask” amounts. This concept of segmenting and targeting ask amounts helps millennial donors think less and do more. Also note the single primary call to action as distinguished by the red color. (More on the importance of button color can be found here in this classic A/B test article from Hubspot.)

Millennials, just like their older peers struggle with cognitive dissonance – too many choices can be paralyzing. Barry Schwartz has a fantastic TED Talk worth watching on the topic.

You need to ask millennials to give, but you need to make it easy. Bridging the gap between directly asking and discreetly asking (the concept from the previous section) is undeniably difficult, and oddly paradoxical. “You’re telling me I need to ask, but also telling me not to directly ask???”

An example that effectively executes on these concepts comes from Amazon.

AmazonSmile example

AmazonSmile effectively reminds me that I am making a charitable contribution, but it also doesn’t make me think about making the donation. I’m shopping (aka I’m busy), but I’m also being reminded to donate. For a millennial this is the ultimate win-win.

How to apply these concepts to your shop

Taking these suggestions and applying them to your shop will be easier said than done. These concepts are not effortless to implement. Getting millennials to donate is not all that simple.

There are two overarching takeaways that I hope you will be able to apply right now:

  1. Don’t assume everything you hear in a webinar is valid
  2. Accept that fact that millennials are different, eventually the tried and true fundraising vehicles of the past will need to be replaced

A note on the long-term benefits of these methods

It’s worth noting that the examples I used above are not that great. Brady Josephson wrote a great article in 2013 (Why Amazon Is Smiling and Charities May Be Losing ) unearthing why AmazonSmile actually detracts from long-term charitable giving. Freerice.com does the same thing.

The issue is, these are the best examples I have personally interacted with. Which means two things:

  1. It is really tough to discretely and conveniently ask anyone, especially a millennial for money
  2. It’s incredibly important for organizations in our industry to be innovative and push boundaries