Millennials, Volunteers, and Donors—Oh My!

09 Mar 2016

Annual fundraising events, everything from walks and runs to silent auctions and galas, require a lot of manpower to be successful. And most of the individuals that are doing the heavy lifting are volunteers. You can recognize them by the amount of dedication, passion and elbow grease they are giving to your organization. They are a special segment of your audience and deserve their place in your communication plan.

A popular theory is volunteers donate their time because they are unable or unwilling to donate money. Therefore, you should not ask this segment of your audience for a financial commitment when you are fundraising. That’s a dangerous theory to follow. When someone volunteers for your organization, they are likely to feel closely connected to your organization and your mission. A recent study highlighted 87% percent of volunteers say there is overlap between the organizations they support financially and where they volunteer, with 43% describing significant or total overlap with the organizations they support financially and as a volunteer.

If your communications plan for 2016 included outreach to millennials, look no further than your volunteer pool. Millennials are getting out and making a difference in their communities with their time. In 2014, two-thirds of millennial respondents said they volunteered at least an hour a week. So how can you merge these three segments of your organization’s audience? How can you take millennials who are volunteers and turn them into donors?

Focus Your Campaign Messages

If you better understand the next generation of decision makers, then you can better engage them to donate or volunteer with your organization. Provide direct messaging on what your organization needs and how individuals can contribute. Relate to the lifestyle of your millennial audience, and illustrate how small financial contributions do make an impact. (Example: for only $10 a month, you can provide reading materials for one classroom.)

Partner With Companies

Rather than engage a company in a straight-sponsorship, work with them to fund a matching program to help not only receive money from the corporate sponsors, but also from individual employees. This will allow the younger workforce the chance to feel connected to the organization and mission.

Allow One-Time Volunteer Opportunities

One-off volunteer needs allow a new audience to “try-on” an organization. Millennials need to see to believe. During the volunteer engagement, spend time communicating with new supporters why your organization is so special, why you’re a great fit for their individual passions, and how much of an impact they can have with you. And when they leave, continue the conversation with a handwritten thank you and invites to future events as well as newsletters and general organization info. The more engaged a volunteer becomes, the more likely they are to become a donor.

Event Volunteers MUST Peer-to-Peer Fundraise

The largest volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations are often associated with events. If your organization hosts an annual run/walk with a large pool of volunteers, make those volunteers part of the peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. Make it mandatory to register (similar to the event participant) and set a fundraising goal. Engage in gamification to add a competition aspect to the volunteer fundraising.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is effective with the millennial demographic due to the social media aspects often associated with it. If your volunteers are fundraising, they become advocates and coaches for your event participants and help spread the fundraising message.

Fundraising and volunteer engagement are both all about building relationships. Millennials research and need proof of impact before committing to an organization. In today’s digital world, where we are connected through many channels, the lines are blurring between donors and volunteers. Putting up an artificial wall and keeping them separated only adds limitations to your relationships. A successful organization will utilize a strong volunteer base as an extension of the organization and acknowledge they are the future decision makers that will impact the industry.