Every nonprofit wants a piece of the Millennial pie these days—it seems like every organization I’ve talked to has a plan or is trying to create a plan to break into a new demographic of support.

The challenge is that Millennials behave differently than the generation of supporters before them, and technology has hugely influenced their communication styles and preferences.

So where should you start?


Engagement is a tricky word—it’s often used, but rarely defined. For instance, what does it look like for someone to be fully engaged with your organization? What is the first level of engagement that indicates they’d like to progress to a more substantial relationship? Clearly defining the various engagement levels is very helpful when it comes to taking strategic action.

Fully engaging Millennials as loyal donors is not likely to happen in one fell swoop. It is prudent to understand the steps that lead to a gift and the actions needed to guide supporters through that journey.

Millennials want to be a part of something meaningful.

One way to show Millennials how their support is making a difference is by cultivating relationships through communications, and specifically by telling stories. Stories naturally demonstrate impact in a tangible way and when they are told well, they make the reader feel like the hero. During a recent project I worked on with a client, we did extensive content analysis to understand the differences between Millennial, Gen Y and Boomer donors. What we found was that Millennial donors tend to respond best to stories that are inspiring and have a positive vision for the future. These stories don’t try to guilt the reader into donating, nor do they sound “doom and gloom.”

But your organization can go a step beyond by empowering Millennials to be the storytellers.

This can feel like a scary step for a lot of organizations. I often here clients say things like, “Well what if they say something bad about us online?” The reality is that this could happen anytime, not just when you are encouraging people to be storytellers. Social medial and online communication has empowered everyone to be a content creator.

Let’s harness that power for good.

Include a call to action in your stories. If you want people to share them, it’s important to tell them to share it. Make it very clear what the next step is for someone once they have finished reading or watching the story.

Make sure your story is shareable. By that I mean that they story should follow best practices for the social channel(s) that you are using. Make sure the image is the right size. Keep it short and sweet. Make sure the first sentence or 10 seconds are an enticing preview of what’s to come. DoSomething.org does a great job of this on their Facebook page.

Encourage your story sharers to make it their own. Do they have a similar story or an opinion on the topic? Ask them to share it in their re-post or give them a hashtag to use if there are posting something original. But most importantly, engage with and re-share what they post. David Suzuki Foundation recently ran a challenge on Instagram called #30×30, which is worth checking out.

What’s the key takeaway from all this? Engaging Millennials may be different from anything your organization has ever done before. Be open to the new possibilities and relationships this type of engagement can bring.

Want to learn more about how your nonprofit can harness Millennial impact? Join MCON 2016 online!


Vanessa Chase Lockshin founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help nonprofit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way. Using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, Vanessa helps nonprofits improve their fundraising success. Vanessa’s fundraising career started at The University of British Columbia, her alma mater. Currently, Vanessa is president of The Storytelling Nonprofit, co-founder of Stewardship School, and board chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.

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