Focus on Millennials at Your Peril!

MillennialsWatch out, the Millennials are coming.

The latest census says there are 83.1 million of them in the United States and many more worldwide. There is a lot of chatter about this group of people. Some call them “the Me Generation,” filled with self-orientation and narcissism. Others state that they are more committed and more thoughtful than past generations.

Who are they? The term “Millennials” generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Perhaps the most commonly-used birth range for this group is 1982-2000. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, because it comes after Generation X – those people born between the early 1960s and the 1980s.

Millennials are changing the face of business. In an article in Business Insider, Kate Taylor writes that Millennials are “killing” some of the businesses and industries that have been around for a long time. Here are just some of those businesses or industries they are abandoning:

  • Casual dining chains like Buffalo Wings and Applebee’s
  • Beer
  • Golf & Football
  • Cereal
  • Motorcycles
  • Homeownership
  • Diamonds
  • Banks
  • Department stores like Macy’s and Sears
  • Gyms
  • Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes
  • Oil

And they will change the face of philanthropy. Our colleague Brady Josephson of re:charity writes about 9 insights on millennials and fundraising. Take a look at his article for more details and insights.

Jeff and I are regularly asked about Millennials – what to do with them and how to relate to them in major gifts. There is a lot of advice out there on this subject. But our advice boils down to these 3 points:

  1. Don’t get so enamored with Millennials that you ignore the fact that the majority of the wealth and resources are with the GenX, Boomers and the Matures – the older generations. Spend most of your efforts talking to and nurturing those groups.
  2. But [this is a BIG but!] do not ignore that fact that Millennials are an up-and-coming group of donors who are substantially different than past generations. They will change how you operate, so you need to pay attention to them. This means you keep your GenX and Boomer/Mature efforts going full speed while you build systems and strategies (see Brady article above) for the Millennials.
  3. Impact and proof of performance are becoming more and more critical to major gift success. Jeff and I have been saying this for years – the reason most donors go away or give less is because they do not know their giving is making a difference. Period. And if that is a problem now with our older generation donors, it is going to be an even bigger issue with Millennials. Millennials are more trust-sensitive than other donors. As Brady points out, “84% of them say they are most likely to donate when they fully trust an organization. And 90% say they will stop giving if they do not trust the organization.” They demand authenticity and proof of performance. Deliver on that, and they will be loyal to the end. Plus, impact and proof of performance is a huge deal with GenXers. Huge. So this one point – trust – is key. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to the survival and health of your major gift program AND your organization. Give impact information and be economically healthy, or don’t give it and die. That is the stark reality.

You can spend a great deal of time and energy getting ready for and talking to Millennials. You can get all your social media and email strategies finely tuned. You can do most everything a Millennial wants and still lose it, with current older donors and Millennials both, because you have not paid attention to this one area: proof of performance.

It is good to focus on the media and the strategies. But stop for a bit and focus instead on the message. What are you telling the donors on your caseload about how their giving is making a difference? THAT is what is important. That is what will determine whether you succeed or fail.



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