February 13, 2016

Engage Younger Donors as Champions

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Just like Olympians don’t master the baton pass in one practice session, you have to train your team to build sustainable relationships with your rising donor population.

Younger Donors as Champions Aespire Design

You've come to expect perspectives you won't find anywhere else from Aespire. In that spirit, we welcome a guest perspective from Blake Groves of Salsa Labs.

Anyone who has watched track and field at any level has likely seen the awkward devastation of a failed baton pass. In a relay race, the baton transfer is make or break. A missed pass, or even a delay in the transition, can seriously hinder a team’s chances of winning.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with engaging donors. Hang tight. We’re about to get to that.

Here’s the thing. Passing the baton, in fundraising as it is in sports, is a critical event that all comes down to execution.

The title of “Most Prominent Donor Generation” is in a transitional state — a baton-passing state if you will. Pew Research Center has found that as of this year, millennials are about to overtake boomers as the largest giving generation.

That’s a big deal! How is your organization preparing to handle the baton pass?

Luckily, there’s no shortage of literature available to help you accomplish just that. This aptly named blog is full of insightful content designed to help with various fundraising needs, for example.

The crux of this article, designed to give some unique insight into the modern fundraising paradigm shift, relies on a rather simple premise.

If you can engage your donors as champions, your organization is headed in the right direction.

Specifically, our focus is placed on younger donors who, for the purposes of this discussion, we classify as millennials and the generation coming behind them.

Also known as Generation Y, these donors, roughly 20-35 years old, are ready and willing to donate. The trick is they grew up analyzing the world through the lens of modern technology and global connectedness. Naturally, that environment majorly shaped the way these younger donors engage with things on a daily basis, which includes how they interact with your nonprofit.

Speaking of engagement, let’s delve into what we mean by “champions.” To paraphrase Aespire’s own Brian Sooy, champions are deeply bound to your organization and your cause. Champions provide a voice for your cause and see your organization as part of their own personal story.

Sounds great, right? Now that the definitions are out of the way, it’s time to walk through the strategies.

1. Keep your marketing cause-centric.

Younger donors are incredibly cause-centric, which is great news for an organization pursuing relationships with donors as champions. People are champions of causes and corresponding nonprofits, not necessarily specific fundraising campaigns.

You might secure a gift here or there if you keep a tight focus on specific campaigns, but you’re not going to turn a donor into a champion when their only knowledge of your organization is from promotions for specific campaigns.

Instead, put the cause that drives your organization’s mission at the center of all your efforts. Donors need to know your cause in order to champion it.

To keep attention on your cause, offer engagement opportunities that don’t strictly involve donating. For example, many supporters who venture into advocacy on behalf of your organization easily transition into the role of champion.

Consider launching an advocacy campaign to push forward with donor engagement.

Maybe your organization is looking to halt a particular piece of legislation or encourage community members to go out and vote on a certain issue. Engage young donors as advocates for such campaigns. Advocacy marries an interest in your cause with tangible, active engagement. And active engagement solidifies your cause’s significance in your donors’ minds.

2. Go to their home turf.

An early step in turning donors into champions involves starting the relationship between those supporters and your cause. If someone has made the effort to give a gift or even just signed up for your newsletter, they’ve signaled interest in your cause. They’ve rounded the corner, baton in hand.

Outstretch your arm and reciprocate the gesture.

Go to them and make it easy to learn more about your cause and the options available for further engagement. Here’s where proper donor stewardship and management come into play.

Always lead with gratitude (a cardinal rule of fundraising), but don’t stop there. Interact. Interact. Interact.

Consider the constant state of information saturation your younger donors have grown up in. Thanks to the internet, smartphones, and the like, constant contact is the new normal.

This isn’t intended to say you should bombard younger donors with information, overwhelming and annoying them. It is, instead, mentioned to remind you that millennials have a different definition of what a normal amount of contact is.

Take your marketing to where your younger donors are spending a large portion of their free time:

  • Over text
  • In email inboxes
  • On various social media platforms

Don’t email them daily, but make sure your organization is popping up in their social media feeds on a regular basis.

Social media, with millennials especially, is one area where your nonprofit needs to excel. Most organizations are on board with this, but it stills bears heavy importance on a list of engagement strategies.

The fundraising potential of social media is immense and the various opportunities the platforms present should not go unused. For instance, with a donate button you can now easily ask for contributions on Facebook.

If you have a donor who wants to promote the work you’re doing, make sure she has an easy way to do so, like sharing a Facebook post or tweeting with a specific hashtag.

raise your voice cause manifesto 75pxLearn how to stand out to younger donors with Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

You could be distributing the best materials in the world to grab the attention of your youngest donors, and those materials would accomplish nothing without utilization of the proper channels.

Stand out in a saturated market.

3. Offer unique opportunities.

Engaging donors should be about more than asking for donations. Especially when it comes to younger donors with new careers, new families, and loads of student debt, constantly asking them to return to their wallet is a surefire way to isolate them.

The millennial age group is perfectly primed to have meaningful interactions that lead to later donations when they can do so. Although we all know and recognize the significance of major gifts, it’s important that upgrading millennials is not your sole priority.

When it comes to younger generations, focus on establishing support for your organization as part of their routines. That way, you’ll be high on their list when they have a more flexible financial capacity to contribute.

Meanwhile, you can offer unique opportunities such as:

  • Creating volunteer tasks that take millennial skills into account: This will vary drastically depending on your nonprofit’s mission and work. An organization that works with high schoolers might ask volunteers to teach business-related technology skills. An animal shelter could have volunteers come and walk dogs. Find ways for younger donors to contribute to your organization and employ the skills they already possess.
  • Forming a junior board: Nonprofit boards are usually reserved for established community members. That’s not realistic for someone in their twenties. A junior board gives younger donors a prominent place within your organization and your organization insights into the philanthropic mindset of millennials. Everyone wins.
  • Inviting young supporters to events: In this increasingly digital age, nothing beats the benefit of face time. Events provide a fun outlet for supporters to interact with members of your organization and recipients of your service. Turning donors into champions is far easier if your nonprofit can foster a sense of community across your network. Events establish a sense of community.

Find what meshes with your cause and your supporters. Empower millennials to make an impact, regardless of financial situation.

4. Diversify your giving options.

Although you shouldn’t rely only on giving to engage younger donors, when you do ask for gifts, you want to provide plenty of options.

We’ve already covered major giving and donating through social media, but let’s explore a couple others:

  • Giving to specific campaigns: Whether you’re promoting a crowdfunding or a capital campaign, ensure that you give donors choices as far as gift size goes. Don’t exclude interested donors who happen to have limited funds. Likewise, still promote avenues for contributing larger gifts to those that can do so. Balance is key.
  • Giving on mobile platforms: Smartphones have reached such cultural dominance that your organization has to be optimized for mobile. If a donor can cash a check, make a dinner reservation, and video call with a distant relative all with a few taps on a touchscreen, he’s going to want that kind of convenience when it comes to mobile giving. From text-to-give campaigns to online donation pages, make sure your presence lives up to the standard we’ve all come to expect.

Diversifying your giving options can make the difference between securing or losing a gift.

To circle back to our baton pass scenario, you have a far higher likelihood of a successful transfer if the recipient is ready and able to catch the pass at a variety of speeds and angles.

Just like Olympians don’t master the baton pass in one practice session, reading this article isn’t going to instantly teach your organization how to build sustainable relationships with your rising donor population.

Instead, what we offered here are forward-thinking strategies for long-term organizational success. If you can master the process of converting young donors into champions for your cause as new generations cycle in, you’ll be a fundraising force to be reckoned with.


Blake Groves Salsa Aespire welcomes guest author Blake Groves, Vice President, Strategy and Business Development of Salsa.

With more than 20 years in technology solutions and consulting, Blake comes equipped with hands-on knowledge of sales, consulting, product management and marketing. For the last 10 years, he has narrowed his focus to how Internet technologies can help nonprofit organizations, and prior to joining Salsa, he held positions at Convio and Charity Dynamics.

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