By 2017, the Millennial generation will have the most buying power.

The Millennial generation’s economic value goes beyond current giving levels and can be higher than other generations.

Fundraising is profoundly multichannel and the Millennial generation is not loyal to any one giving channel.

Direct mail did not register as a way in which members of the Millennial generation first learned about a charity.

Millennials are more likely to be influenced by strangers’ opinions online than by the opinions of people they know.

Millennials are 3x as likely to turn to social networks to get opinions on products to buy.

64% of Millennials feel that companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online in the future.

(data is take from this Convio study and webinar (registration required) as well as this Bazaarvoice study and webinar).

The Millennial generation is a massive group of people who were born between 1982 and 1994 (some define it as 1981 to 2000). The generation is dramatically impacting the culture as it increases in buying power and influence. The statistics above are simple examples of this point. They are also examples of how this generation is very different from its parents, the Boomer generation. These generational shifts are having and will continue to have an impact on the way we do fundraising and communication. Let’s take a look at why this shift matters, the impact it will have on our way of working, and what we can do now to take advantage of the shift.

Why Does this Matter?

According to the study conducted by Convio which I referenced above, the Boomer generation currently has the largest giving capacity and the largest pool of available donors. Most of our fundraising strategies were built for the Mature generation and are being slightly adapted for the Boomer generation. However, the differences between the Mature and Boomer generations are minuscule compared to the differences between the Boomer and Millennial generations. The Millennial generation wants to be able to get information and give donations at any time and in any way they desire. They require us to utilize multiple channels at all times and ensure that which are sharing a unified message throughout all of those channels.

Why should we care about the differences between the Boomers and Millennials? I think the first statistic I listed above answers that questions pretty plainly. By 2017, Millennials will have the most buying power. In 5 years, those between the age of 35 and 23 will have more buying power than any other age group! We have five years before this age group is the dominant financial force. Paying attention to these generational differences and finding ways to engage the Millennial generation matters because if we wait until 2017 we will have missed our opportunity. Millennials are developing brand loyalty now. They are choosing whom they will support and whom they think is important now.

Many have heard and know the truism, “People give to people.” This will be only more pronounced with the Millennial generation. We need to recognize that the Millennials are choosing the “people” with whom they want to build relationships. They are looking for relationships with people not institutions. We need to be sure our strategies are working to engage this generation or else we risk losing it. Remember, this generation is already less affiliated with a particular faith. We are fighting an uphill battle in which thousands of messages are being blasted from every angle. We need to stand up and take note that the Millennial generation is worth fighting for and it is our job to engage their hearts and minds.

Impact on Institutional Advancement

Let’s look at a few ways in which I believe we need to adjust our mindsets and strategies as they relate to the Millennial generation. Institutional Advancement, what I define as a comprehensive approach to the development of a seminary, is greatly impacted by our need to engage the Millennial generation.

Engagement vs. Donation Mindset
First, we need to think differently when it comes to the Millennial generation. While they will have the most buying power by 2017, that moniker currently belongs to the Boomers. Therefore when working with Millennials we need to think first about engagement not solicitation or donations. Remember, Millennials are choosing brand loyalty right now. The lifetime value of donor in the Millennial generation is much higher than a donor from the Boomer generation, but the average amount of a gift is currently smaller. However, when it comes to engagement, average gift size doesn’t matter. Donations don’t matter, engagement does. We have to adjust our mindset, which will in turn adjust our strategies, so that we think about ways to engage this generation. How do we build relationships? How do we share information? How do we create passion around our mission? How do we create passion around our programs, initiatives, and institutions? When it comes to the Millennial generation we need to track engagement metrics not major gift metrics.

Unified Communication
If shifting from a donation to an engagement mindset is the most significant change, unifying institutional communication will often be the second most significant change for many institutions. With the rise of the Millennial generation came the rise of the social network. With the rise of the social network came the imperative to unify communication efforts. I would argue that this was always an imperative, but the rise of social networks has made it even more prevalent. We do not control the messages we share about our institutions. Once we share it, a message can take any shape, be shared in any way, and be commented on by anyone. Our entire constituency base can be impacted by each message we share. Therefore, we need to unify our communication efforts. It seems that we cannot have an online giving strategy that is developed apart from our direct mail strategy. It seems that our online marketing strategies should not be developed apart from our online giving strategies. A unified message which encourages the development of an engaged community will become increasingly more important.

Multichannel planning
Because there is no dominant preference among Millennials related to giving or information channels, it is important that our planning involves multiple channels. Our engagement initiatives and giving appeals need to be available on many communication platforms and through many channels. People need to be able to engage at any time and in any way they desire. It will be important to leverage tools like Facebook’s Sponsored Stories as well as Mail Chimps email tools – all while maintaining a direct mail strategy. Even more important is the fact that all three of those examples need to share a unified communication strategy. Our planning and execution will require much more integration.

Higher Need for Visual Storytelling
250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each day. A Facebook post with a picture or photo album generates about 120% to 180% more engagement respectively than the average post. We need to become really great at telling our story using pictures while recognizing that all pictures do not need to be taken by a professional photographer. While featured pictures (print, website, Facebook Timeline) require high quality photography, we do not need a high quality picture for every Facebook post. We simply need to start using more pictures. Pictures induce engagement at a much higher rate than text. Also, current technology and design trends heavily feature the use of images. It will become even more important to be adept at telling stories using pictures instead of words.

Socialize Everything
71% of Millennials share their opinions online because they believe others value those opinions. Whether we like it or not, the Millennial generation likes to share its opinion about everything. In addition, they like to share their experiences. This should impact the way we develop processes, experiences, events, web pages, campaigns and much more. Everything needs to be socialized. Can we look for ways to socialize the giving process? Can we look for ways to socialize our events on campus? By this I mean are there ways your institution can make it easy for an individual to share their experience online? An example would be creating an option for someone to “share” their gift on Facebook or comment on the courses they are taking. If there is something someone can do related to our institution (a verb of some sort: like, register, give, attend, etc), then we can create ways for people to share with their network the fact that they took that action (this is basically the premise of Facebook’s Sponsored Stories).

Recognize Influence and Giving
Finally, it is the act of sharing with their network which has such great value. For years we have recognized people for their various levels of giving. People get to be in the “President’s Circle” for giving a certain amount of money or the “Founder’s Circle” for giving a different amount. With the advent of social networking tools and the ways in which the social graph can be leveraged, we can find new was to recognize and involve individuals. If a person has 3,000 followers on Facebook and is a student at our school, are there ways we can recognize and involve them in new ways? Klout has worked with many tech startups to do something like this related to product launches. Basically, a person who has “Klout” can get a free trial, limited invitations and much more. Are there ways for us to recognize and reward influence as well as giving?

2017 is 5 years from now!

It would be wrong for me to say that all our energy should be placed on engaging the Millennial generation. While it is important to actively engage that generation, we must recognize that the Boomer generation currently has the largest giving capacity. This means we need to strategically balance resources and efforts. We must build for the future while continuing to develop and cultivate relationships within all generations. However, it is important to note that the impact of the Millennial generation is being felt throughout all of society. The tendencies of the Millennial generation are starting to seep into all generations. The number of people using social media who are between the ages of 55 and 64 increased by 60% in 2011. Mutichannel planning, visual storytelling, and unified communication are important to all generations.

The task before us is to engage the Millennial generation in meaningful ways as we seek to develop a relationship that will last a lifetime. At the same time, we need to look closely at our strategies related to donor development and cultivation. The world is changing and we may need to look at ways we can change in order to become more effective.

Related Presentation: A New Generation of Giving