Why Your Membership Program Isn’t Resonating with Millennials | npENGAGE

Why Your Membership Program Isn’t Resonating with Millennials (And What You Can Do About It)

By on Jul 25, 2014


Millennial Girl

You might feel like you’re stuck between steady revenue and reaching new visitors: your donor base is aging, but investing time and energy into attracting younger people doesn’t seem to result in the donation dollars you need.

Don’t write off the millennial generation (ages 18-32) just yet. There are plenty of articles out there that tell you that millennials tend to be entitled and selfish (TIME magazine labeled them the “me me me generation”), but World Vision found just the opposite.  Blackbaud also released a report last year that showed that 60% of Gen Y members give.

So…why aren’t they giving to your cultural organization?

The truth is your carefully crafted current membership and donor benefit structure may not be resonating with millennials.

Why not? Because millenials have different motivations for giving than the generations that came before them.

Here’s what your membership or donor benefit structure might look like today:

  1. Free admission
  2. Branded merchandise (mugs, hats, t-shirts)
  3. Free Parking
  4. Donor recognition (such as name listed in your program or on a donor recognition wall)
  5. Special event invitations

What do all these things have in common? They are all extrinsic rewards. An extrinsic reward is a benefit the donor receives from your organization when they make a donation, such as a tangible item or recognition and priority access. While extrinsic rewards work for many donors, and very well might be working for your current donors, extrinsic rewards are less likely to motivate millennials.

So what does motivate millennials? Millenials are more likely to donate because they want to make the world a better place. In other words, they are motivated by intrinsic rewards – they donate because it makes them feel good and because they believe in your mission.

The truth is, there are many charitable organizations out there for millennials to donate their time and energy.  To attract them to your organization, you need to appeal to their intrinsic motivation.

With that in mind, here are three tips to engage millenials:

1. Create mission focused messaging:

When engaging with millennials, focus on the partnership you can build to make the world a better place.  Millennials aren’t going to respond to perks and tangible items, but want to understand how their donation is going to benefit your mission and their community. Did your donation dollars allow schools to bring students to your educational programming for free last year? Stick to telling that story in your campaign mailings, and stay away from the pictures of galas and promises of program recognition.

2. Target your campaigns:

If your current membership or donor benefit structure has been successful, you may want to keep it in place for your current donors and send separate, targeted campaigns to attract millennial donors. Tag your targets in your CRM so you send them specialized messaging or, if you don’t have that information, send mission focused messaging to targeted zip codes or to attendees of programming that attracted a younger audience.

3. Offer opportunities to get hands on:

Millennials volunteer. Individuals ages 25-29 are more likely to volunteer than any other age category. When people volunteer with your organization, they build a stronger, longer lasting relationship with your organization that can result in future donations. There’s another benefit to your organization: these young professionals are often educated, motivated and ready to make a difference. Rather than sitting idly on a nonprofit board, they want to work with your employees, do analysis and provide recommendations. Not only do you need to create opportunities for millennials to actively volunteer, you need to make sure they know about it, so participate in volunteer fairs at universities and places that employ young adults.

The millennial generation may have a bad rap, but in reality they both volunteer and make charitable donations. However, their motivations are different than the generations that came before them. With a little tweaking and targeted messaging, you can start to build stronger relationships with millennials: the donors of the future and the largest generation in history.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or on twitter @laurabeussman.

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash: Sunset Girl


Laura Beussman is passionate about marketing and building sustainable communities, and is able to combine the two as Director of Product Marketing, Fundraising & CRM Solutions, at Blackbaud. In her current role, Laura leads the go-to-market strategy for Blackbaud’s portfolio of best in class fundraising solutions, which includes the development of positioning, value propositions, packaging, and pricing. Laura has an affinity for the arts, coming from spending five years early in her career working in nonprofit arts organizations, in roles ranging from finance to development and marketing at organizations including Austin Opera, Madison Opera, AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Dallas Theater Center. After completing her MBA at the University of Wisconsin’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, Laura spent two years as the lead pricing manager for consumer desktops at Dell. Laura joined the Blackbaud team in 2013, and spent her first four years there leading the marketing efforts for the arts & cultural vertical. Still involved in the arts, she continues to serve on nonprofit boards, previously at the Austin Chamber Music Center (2011 – 2014) and currently on the Advisory Board at her alma mater, the Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In her personal time, Laura and her husband David, a choir director, spend their time chasing after their three year old daughter and two teenagers.

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