I remember the meeting well. We were very concerned. How are we going to motivate the next generation to support our nonprofit cause? It is a very large generation and it isn’t showing the same kind of philanthropic behavior as its parents’ and grandparents’ generations. But this generation is the future, and our organization simply can’t survive if we don’t quickly figure out a way to turn them into donors.

The year was 1980. The generation that we were concerned about—those people that just didn’t seem to be very philanthropic—were the Baby Boomers.

Fast-forward 35 years and the question we’re asking sounds very much the same: “How are we going to motivate the Millennial generation to become donors?” Baby Boomers are living longer, but eventually the inevitable will happen and there won’t be any more donations from this generation, so we have to look toward the future.

But before we start talking to Millennials, we have to figure out their “love language.” This requires involving them in our discussions. We can’t tell them what they want to do or how they want to consume our information; we must ask them.

We also need to look at new ways of doing fundraising. There is no one-size-fits-all for Millennials (just like there was never one for Baby Boomers). We must be willing to try new ways of doing things. For example . . .

Consider events that combine multiple purposes

Education, dinner, networking and learning about your organization, for example. What about a monthly meeting? A once-a-quarter reception? Involving Millennials in your planning will more likely result in a strategy that Millennials can embrace.

Don’t abandon direct mail

Just think about it differently. The old formula of a letter a month may not work as well, but never assume. Test. Shorter letters may work better— or not. Standalone email appeals may replace a printed appeal in terms of net income, or they may flop.  Test.  Look for the right combination of messages, but never neglect fundraising. “Followers” and “friends” are nice, but donors are essential for survival.

Become a storyteller

Reading industry publications lately, I’m starting to think that there’s a rumor that we just invented storytelling a few years ago. Truthfully, it’s been around forever. It’s just that we’ve gotten a bit lazy, and sometimes rely too much on technology to tell our stories. Photos and videos are fantastic for storytelling, but so are words, passionately delivered in person.

We will have to adapt our fundraising to reach Millennials, but at the same time, we can’t abandoned what we know is working in terms of bringing in the money. An organization that builds a solid core of Millennial supporters is only going to be around in the future to reap the benefits if they have people who are supporting them today so they can continue doing their work.

Fundraising methodologies are constantly evolving, but people still donate because they believe an organization has the best potential to address a situation they care about, and they were asked. They may rely on an in-depth analysis, a gut reaction or a deep emotional motivation. But none of those things can be demanded. Every chance you get, in every medium available, tell your organization’s story.  And then, show Millennials how their story can become part of your story.


Pamela Barden, CFRE, is a Direct Response Fundraising Strategist and Copywriter. With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations.  She specializes in writing fundraising copy, P.R. materials and instructional articles, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy.

As Vice President and Group Director at Russ Reid (2006–2009), she was responsible for the management of the largest single account for this marketing agency specializing in nonprofit fundraising.  Her nonprofit experience includes leading the fundraising work for International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (2001–2006); World Relief Corporation (1988–2001) and Youth for Christ/USA (1979–1988).

Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from the DMA, a Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, adjunct instructor at University of La Verne and a weekly columnist for “Today in Fundraising.”

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