Getting Millennials to the Table


If you want to engage millennials in philanthropy you will find no shortage of articles telling you the three things you need to do; how they love social, tech-savvy approaches; they want to be engaged at different levels and in new ways; how maybe they won’t even miss 1% of their income siphoned off to a good cause. The information is there in abundance, and if you can look past the goofy headlines (ah-hem, Case Foundation’s “Millennial Takeover!”) the reasons people are talking about millennials so much become clear. 

This is who they (err…we) are:  

·      Born between 1980-2000

·      Changemakers, advocates, and networkers

·      50% of the US workforce by 2020, growing to 75% by 2030

·      Purchasing power, globally, will be close to $1.4 trillion (!) by 2020

Oh, and us North American millennials are going to inherit $30 trillion over the next 30 years. Who wouldn’t want to market to us? Engage us? Solicit us? 

The thing is, this stuff is probably true and really useful as organizations think about how to reach this coveted demographic; but, if millennials are what they say we are: cause-driven, educated, looking to participate at different levels of an organization – is it showing up in our communities? Is it reflected on our boards, on our list of supporters, and in leadership roles at nonprofits? I would say, no– or at least not as well as it could be. 

So why is that? It’s complicated, sure. But to get at one possible answer, let me take you all the way back to September 4, 2018. That’s the day we launched Brightspot Consultants (yay). It’s also the day hearings on now-Chief Justice Kavanaugh began; the day I was found out I had Lyme Disease; and, the day my family experienced its first-ever “code brown” in the bathtub[1]. After the fact and looking back, this day’s events seem somewhat exaggerated – all that in one day?!But they also reflect who I am and what’s important to me on any given day: I’m fledging small business owner; an impassioned citizen worried about the courts and other stuff; I’m someone who cares about the environment and wonders when I got that tick bite and why instances of Lyme seem to be up so much; and, I’m the crazed mom of a 1 and 3 year old who keep me, let’s say, grounded. 

I’d venture a guess that my peers, even the younger millennials in their early 20s, are not so different in the diversity of interests, causes, people, and responsibilities in their lives. There’s a lot going on these days with more ways than ever to follow it all, participate, and stay connected. 

When I come back to how the nonprofit sector can better tap into this group, it’s clear it’s about howwe reach out (make clear the goal and impact of their effort; use technology to eliminate barriers to saying no), but it also means reconsidering whatwe’re asking for and how it fits into their life. We should be asking who and what we’re up against for their time, energy, and resources, and how we might tweak our ‘ask’ to make a more compelling and reasonable invitation to engage. 

This last year I worked with an organization based in a seasonal community that was looking to add new, younger members to its board and committees. To accommodate a local, millennial, business owner headed into the high-season of summer, a committee chair asked in the spring if this woman would commit to joining the committee come October when things slowed down. She said yes and made good on that pledge last week. At another organization, where a board member is connected to a group of women with young children, the board member offered to be a ‘liaison’ of sorts and work as a go-between sharing updates on the board’s work, while also asking these women to think about a few specific challenges around an annual event. Instead of waiting years for these women’s lives at home to slow down (that happens, right?), the board member adjusted the request and expectations to make participation possible.

These are not brilliant solutions. But they’re good, common sense solutions that allow and encourage participation. It sends that message that yes, we are for you too, millennials! Now, this post is not advocating for free-wheeling board governance that makes more exceptions that it does policies; but, it is asking nonprofits to think more creatively and flexibly about how they can engage the voice, passion, skills, and networks of new people towards a shared mission. Whether these changes are one-offs or lead to broader changes through the organization is not for me to say. Finally, lest I leave you with the impression that engaging millennials is only up to our nonprofits (it isn’t), in a future post I’ll dig into what I think my peers can be doing to become more civically minded and engaged, how to go about finding the right place to serve, and why it’s so important to do so. 

[1]If you don’t know ‘code brown’ you’re better for it.

Caitlin DelaneyComment