New Millennial Engagement Research

By Jocelyne Daw and Richard Janzen

Every nonprofit or community-minded organization is looking to pass the torch to the next generation, finding someone to take up “The Cause” and continue the good work. This work is vitally important to building and maintaining communities, helping the disadvantaged, and connecting us with like-minded people.  Millennials are a key target. They care about their community already.  So the question is not why engage them or what to do when they become involved. The real question is how do you most effectively engage and keep Millennials engaged? 

Many community-minded organizations are still trying to understand how best bring onboard the next generation, most commonly called Millennials. We know Millennials are committed to supporting the community, many having spent their high school years involved in the community as part of their course curriculum. They have different levers to drive their engagement, and different ways they think their help is most effective.

According to a recent study by BBMG Brand Management Group (for the American SPCA), invoking a sense of guilt, or of doing the right thing, does not work with Millennials. Period. They reject a sense of obligation, preferring to focus on areas where they can effect positive change by positive actions. There are too many issues demanding attention in the lives of young people, so nonprofits are better off to create a sense of mission, community, and accomplishment. So the question is what is needed? Here are five shifts from traditional engagement approaches to appeal to millennials

  1. 1.  Move from guilting to educating
  2. 2.  Shift from hard-hitting facts to hard hitting feelings
  3. 3.  Modify complex to simplified, bite size information
  4. 4.  Change from being donor-centric to community centric
  5. 5.  Don’t promote “Doing the Right Thing” talk about “Doing the Cool Thing”

What does this look like in practical terms? Here’s two ways to focus your efforts:

Provide An Authentic Sense of Mission

Millennials seek information and share it differently than previous generations. Think Instagram, Buzzfeed, or Snapchat. They don’t want to be lectured. They know there’s a lot of crappy stuff in the world, but want to take actions that are cool, meaningful, and positive. For example, “Save the puppies” is better than the “Save the whales” of yesteryear. Puppies are cuter, fuzzier, and more likely to be shared.

To get them to share an important message (ie, yours), remove distractions and forget nuance. While facts are important, they do not drive Millennial action. Strip your message down to the basics, and package it in a way that is short, impactful, and easily shared, like an animated GIF, a short video, or a single image that captures your message. (And yes, this is tremendously challenging. But it is also achievable.)

Create A Sense of Community

Millennials know what their friends (virtual or otherwise) like and don’t like. They tune in to like-minded people, and tune out lectures. So make your message cool, and impossible to ignore. Get a spokesperson who is popular with that age group. The message will be more impactful, and doubly so when it is put out to the spokesperson’s followers on social media.

Millennials don’t want to give money to problems to assuage their guilt. They want to be involved in the solution you achieve. So find ways to engage them meaningfully, and the money will follow. Plus, you’ll have dedicated volunteers who the become spokespeople for you in their daily lives.