Many churches, non-profit organizations, and missionaries are experiencing an aging donor base and significant financial challenges as a result. When long-time, committed donors retire, younger donors are often failing to fill their role as a new generation of sustaining supporters. John Dickerson, in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession, reports that “each subsequent generation is giving less than the previous generation, even as they mature.” Responsible leaders today must consider alternate ways of funding their ministries and services as we look to the future. In the meantime, we must consider how to engage a new type of donor. Many Millennials are incredibly generous. They are, however, a different type of donor and require a different style of engagement. Here are some tips for fundraising with younger generations:
1.Tell the stories (vs. the stats)
Older generations usually want to know where their money is going and what it is accomplishing…in measurable terms. As a result, many organizations emphasize numbers in their fundraising efforts. This is not bad, but most Millennials are much more concerned with the individuals impacted than they are with measurable outcomes. Stories matter significantly to them. A powerful story of a specific person or group your ministry or agency is serving, along with some great pictures or video that bring the story to life, will go much further than a graph indicating the numbers achieved. I am hearing more and more of individuals and organizations producing two reports or newsletters to meet the needs of diverse donors.
2.Provide short-term giving opportunities
Many non-profit organizations rely on sustaining donors, those who commit to give regularly for an extended period. Unfortunately, some Millennials are not able to be this type of donor. Saddled with student debt or struggling to find a good job, they are focused on their own financial stress. Even those with jobs are often uncertain how long they will stay in that position (most young adults are changing jobs every couple of years). They are, therefore, uncomfortable making indefinite financial commitments. Find ways to provide one-time or short-term commitments (special projects, six-month commitments, etc.). Use social media, your website, and other forms of communication to keep your needs before them (remember, tell the story and use pictures to make the impact of their gifts personal and real!). Make it easy for them to give online (preferably from their smartphones) when they have the resources to do so.
3.Request funds for people (vs. programs)
Millennials have lost faith in many institutions. They have seen the effects of corruption, bureaucracy, and mismanagement in a variety of programs and organizations. While older generations often believe in programs to accomplish great things, Millennials tend to believe in people to accomplish important things. As a result, they follow, prioritize and support people over programs and institutions. They are more likely to give to an individual or need they know about directly or read about on a crowdfunding site (where they can use their credit card to donate in that moment) than they are to contribute to a capital campaign for an established organization.
Tim Elmore, in his book Generation iY, explains that many young people “really do desire to change the world; they just don’t have what it takes…when the work becomes difficult, they change their minds and move on to something else.” He describes their involvement in important causes as “limited to buying a ‘Live Strong’ wristband or signing a petition on a Web site.” While this is certainly not true of all young people, it unfortunately does represent the unwillingness of some to sacrifice or contribute in traditional ways. It is important to understand, as we seek to develop new financial partners, that there may be fewer who are willing to contribute the way previous generations have. Even as we work to engage a new type of donor, we need to be creative as we think of new funding models and opportunities to sustain our work into the future.
I was recently in a discussion about what to do as a ministry leader when colleagues are not committed to and following through on organizational policies. This led to some observations that respect for authority has changed. There are several reasons why views on authority are changing, especially for those who are younger.
One major factor for decreased respect for leaders is the shrinking (or collapse) of power distance. In the past, experience, education, positions and titles meant an individual had knowledge, expertise, influence and information (ie. power), so they deserved respect. This power distance was physically represented by the distance from the podium to the students, the pulpit to the congregation, the corner office to the cubicles, etc. With changes in culture and technology, power and respect for authority are changing (a great book on this is The End of Power by Moises Naim). A 13-year-old can post on Twitter as easily as the President; students in my college classes can Google more information in 5 minutes than I learned in 6+ years of graduate work; a teenager can get more followers and influence on YouTube in three weeks than established experts sometimes do in a lifetime; and our congregations can listen to podcasts of other pastors all week long.
Power or authority can no longer be gained or leveraged through title, experience, knowledge or position. Influence, respect, and the right to be heard or hold people accountable must be earned through trust, authenticity, humility, service and relationships. We must be sure as we are building our organizational or team culture that we are doing so relationally. This is the best way to win and maintain respect as a leader in today’s context and earn the influence to provide accountability.
We cannot assume respect based on our role or position, we must actively earn and maintain it. Once we have earned this respect, it becomes much easier to have honest conversations with our colleagues and provide accountability.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!