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Millennial Motivation

At a time when many nonprofit organizations are faced with an aging donor base and are trying to cultivate new support, increasing attention is turning to an emergent group of new leaders and influencers: Millennials.

According to The Case Foundation, millennials—who make up approximately 25% of the U.S. population and are defined as people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s—use similar methods to engage in philanthropy as other generations, but the motivations behind their involvement often differ.1 Millennials tend to be tech savvy and entrepreneurial, and they frequently look to engage with nonprofits on multiple levels, preferring to up their unique skillsets as well as their money.

  • In addition to making up the largest demographic group, FTI Consulting expects U.S. millennial earnings to increase to over $3.4 trillion by 2018 and their spending power to rise to $1.4 trillion by 2020.2
  • While earning power is increasing, a 2015 study by Accenture estimates that millennials stand to inherit more than $30 trillion in North America alone over the next 30 years.3

As organizations seek to work with millennials, it is increasingly important for them to determine clear strategies for leveraging both in-kind and monetary contributions through social media outreach, peer networking events, e-newsletters and face-to-face engagement.

By developing programming that integrates millennials into the mission of the organization while also providing leadership opportunities, nonprofits offer millennials the opportunity to gain a holistic perspective of organizational operations, including development strategies, programming and governance procedures. If done with intention, these engagements can translate to meaningful, long-term involvement—to the benefit of both nonprofit and their millennial donors.

In thinking about program and leadership engagement opportunities for millennials, nonprofits should consider tailoring their approach to fit the key motivations of millennials. According to the U.S. Trust Philanthropic Solutions team, tips for engagement include:4

Millennials generally prefer to ease into relationships with organizations before fully committing to a cause, so organizations should consider creating opportunities to pull them into their programming early on in ways that may not require full-fledged commitment. The initial engagement—such as volunteering at a specific event or program, participating in a single fundraising initiative, or attending a board recruitment event—should offer millennials the ability to better understand the mission, organizational structure and desired impact of the nonprofit.

Organizations should consider examining their leadership structure to find ways to make room on their boards, committees and volunteer programs for millennials to have the ability to actively participate in a manner that feels meaningful to them.

Millennial donors feel a personal sense of social responsibility that helps enable them to be engaged with an organization on many levels. To harness this strength, nonprofits should consider involving millennials in the development and implementation of concrete initiatives through appropriate committees and leadership positions. While all donors should be treated with high levels of attention from staff, development professionals should thoughtfully work to engage millennials in the institution prior to making any ask. For this group, feeling a sense of ownership can lead to an ongoing, fruitful relationship.

Perhaps most importantly, organizations can to help millennials understand the tangible impact of the investment of their time, money, and knowledge. A key differentiator between previous generations and millennials is an emphasis on measured impact; millennials tend to look for full transparency into how their philanthropic investment is moving the needle for an organization, pushing organizations to show clear metrics that resonate in order to keep them highly engaged.

Many millennials tend to be deeply connected to the world and their peers through social media vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Their social media presence offers nonprofits not only unique and valuable insight into millennial giving patterns and social interest areas, but also the opportunity to reach and influence this group. Organizations should consider approaching their social media with the same methodical intent as they would a development strategy.

We works closely with our nonprofit clients to offer strategic support and guidance in how to engage millennials as thoughtful and impactful donors, supportive and educated board and committee members, and overall strong advocates for the organization through our extensive experience in the institutional nonprofit industry.

We know the challenges our nonprofit clients face when working to meaningfully engage with millennials and can work with your organization to determine strategies and solutions for reaching this demographic as donors, volunteers, advocates and leaders.

3 Questions to Ask your Advisor

  1. How should we start attracting millennials to serve on nonprofits?
  2. What kind of outreach programs should our nonprofit implement to attract millennials?
  3. How do we implement social media into our strategy?

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1 The Case Foundation. (2017). The Millennial Impact Report: Phase 1. Retrieved from

2 Pricewaterhouse Cooper. (2012). Millennials at Work—Reshaping the workplace in financial services. Retrieved from

3 Accenture. (2015). The “Greater” Wealth Transfer: Capitalizing on the Intergenerational Shift in Wealth. Wealth and Asset Management Services, Point of View. Retrieved from

4 U.S. Trust Philanthropic Solutions.

Advancement Resources. (2015). Generational Differences in Giving: Engaging Millennials. Retrieved from

Goldseker, Sharna & Moody, Michael. (2013) Young Wealthy Donors Bring Taste for Risk, Hands-On Involvement to Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved from


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