It’s no secret that what motivates young people has shifted in the past couple of decades. For nonprofits, a major change is that millennials and Generation X-ers are less interested in owning things and more interested in experiences. Another way to think about this is that young people are more interested in what they do, rather than what they have.

According to a study by Harris (paid for by Eventbrite), 78% of millennials would choose to spend money on an experience or event, rather than buying something desirable.

From the study:

…this generation not only highly values experiences, but they are increasingly spending time and money on them: from concerts and social events to athletic pursuits, to cultural experiences and events of all kinds. For this group, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.

The key takeaway here is that millenials want to fill their lives with meaningful experiences and creating memories. That’s an amazing finding from a nonprofit perspective, many of whom have a focus on causes that contribute to positive acts and outcomes. But it also means that when it comes to attracting young donors, their messaging has to reflect this fundamental change in values and lifestyle.

This is something that the authors of Generation Impact: How Next Generation Donors are Revolutionizing Giving are very much aware of. According to these thought leaders, major donors in their 20s and 30s are looking for more than a name on a building, or a monetary transaction. They want to play a meaningful role in the organization by giving their time and talent.

The authors admit that the consequences of this new attitude may put an additional burden on nonprofits. So you’re saying that now we have to adjust our practices to accommodate young people? But it’s important to consider the long term implications. These are rising donors, and soon they’ll be the most significant donors in history, with more money to give than their previous generations. And as we’ve seen, they’ll want to give that money in a more involved way than their elders.

The lesson here is that done correctly, their involved, experience-driven approach could mean more effective support for the causes and issues that your organization faces every day.

From authors Michael Moody and Sharna Goldseker:

Next gen donors . . . want to learn what organizations really need, to hear about real problems and then be part of the team that figures out how to solve those problems and advance the organization’s mission. Of course, this means a different approach to engaging big donors than nonprofits are used to. It also requires more staff time and organizational resources to build and nurture the sort of close, candid, and active relationship these donors crave.

The next question is obvious: What are ways that nonprofits can start building next gen donor relationships? Lucklily, the authors offer a list:

  • Don’t wait. Start now. Building trust takes time.
  • Get creative. Devise ways for rising donors to give their time and talent meaningfully, ways that fulfill donors but also help the organization.
  • Become more transparent than you might find comfortable. Think of your next gen donors as partners in the accomplishments and the challenges, as supporters who can help expand the former and address the latter.
  • Be open to new ideas. Invite next gen donors to explore those ideas with you.
  • Focus more on relationships than transactions. Don’t just wait and send a year-end solicitation without some meaningful interaction with a major donor first—a phone call, at least.


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