Tips For Non-Profits That Want To Reach Younger Audiences

December 20, 2013

CornerstoneI recently attended the end-of-year board meeting with Cornerstone, a local organization that educates and advocates for victims and families of domestic violence.

As we looked toward 2014, we discussed how to attract the attention of younger people. Yes, it seems everyone is looking to reach the younger buying audience – and non-profit organizations are no different. But while major corporations have millions of dollars to spend on marketing to their desired audience, a non-profit often has to rely on lower-cost or even no-cost options to get in front of their target.

Like many non-profits, the volunteer bases at Cornerstone tends to skew a bit older, with ages typically ranging from 35 to 65. While that may seem like a wide range, we’re really missing the involvement and ideas of the late teens and twentysomethings. And as those twentysomethings get more involved with their jobs, get married, maybe have kids, their time and attention gets pulled in a variety of directions, making it even more important to reach them now.

Knowing millennials are a generation that wants to get involved in the community, I believe non-profits are in a great position to capture their attention and get them involved.

So how do you do that?

Engage people where they are seeking out information. Social media, anyone? This may be a no-brainer, but many organizations aren’t doing it well and some aren’t doing it at all. Social media allows you to insert yourself into important conversations. It shows you’re listening. That you speak their language and can relate to their world. You can use it to provide a perspective, guidance or even raise funds. And the social tools are either free or very low cost.

Make younger supporters feel needed and important. Create a junior board or advisory council where younger people can lend their opinions and ideas. Challenge them to create an awareness initiative geared at their peers. Involve them in board activities and decisions. Invite them to help shape the organization’s initiatives. Listen to their ideas and show them they are valued.

Offer different giving opportunities. Look at how Red Cross invites people to donate during a crisis. A $10 text donation? Done. And while many non-profits don’t have several spike periods or technical budgets like the Red Cross, consider holding supplemental giving campaigns designed specifically for young supporters. It may mean smaller donation amounts, but the impact will be greater in the long run.

Take money out of the conversation. I know we just touched on giving opportunities, but any non-profit worth its salt knows time and talent is invaluable. So remove money from the conversation. Instead of sending donation letters and requests, what if you sent out communications through social or other means looking for talent and time? I don’t mean a basic call for volunteers, but a true giving campaign where your talent is your treasure. Think of how that tally could add up! You could put values against different activities or simply ask people to help you reach your goal.

A couple of movers and shakers in the non-profit world Jamie Millard (a former Fast Horse pony!) and Kristi Shepherd also offered some key things for non profits to consider.

Jamie Millard, executive director, OTA+Pollen: “It’s all about inclusive and authentic leadership engagement. If you can engage young people in board service, they’ll feel more ownership of your mission and are more likely to help recruit other young people in volunteer service. Young folk are motivated by what their peers are doing and want to be involved with their friends – so it’s all network based.

Kristi Shepherd, principal, Event Architects and Event Production Institute: “Relevance. Relevance for all audiences is important. Needs are escalating in society, but too many nonprofits have stayed stuck in the past with how they do business and aren’t keeping themselves fresh in how they meet the needs. Younger people want to see innovation in everything. Reaching younger people is also about patience and development. Nonprofits need to create development strategies that grow engagement and dollars donated over time.”

I’d love to hear more advice if you’ve got it, especially from millennials. Are you involved in a non-profit? Why or why not? How are you engaged? What can they do better to attract you and your peers?