Reports on nonprofits are predicting that 50% to 75% of executive directors will be leaving their jobs in the next several years. While many nonprofits are focusing on this leadership transition, there is another shift they also need to start focusing on now.

The major donors and supporters that these organizations have relied on for decades will have less of an impact on their fundraising in the near future. Smart organizations need to start cultivating the next generation of passionate supporters, but first they need to have a better understanding of how to adapt their fundraising approaches and begin the process of becoming an organization that makes younger professionals feel strongly about supporting.

Get Them Involved in Nonprofits

In ancient times, nonprofits sent out mass quantities of paper mail and made hundreds of phone calls, and people actually answered their phones, read their mail and then pulled out their checkbooks and sent money to the organization. They felt good about helping someone and doing a good deed. Some of those donors then converted into major supporters that exist today.

Of course, that is an over simplification of one type of fundraising, but it illustrates an important difference. Younger donors are not satisfied with this mass market approach. Millennials have grown up ignoring the telephone and mass marketing mail and email tactics. In addition, this new group of supporters does not want to just write a check; they want to get involved.

It is important to have volunteering opportunities beyond just registering attendees at an event. Supporters in this generation want to work with the clients of the nonprofit and feel like they are making a difference. Only after personally seeing and feeling the positive impact of an organization will they consider giving, and more importantly, ask others to give.

If the mission of a nonprofit is to feed the homeless, for example, then it doesn’t take much imagination to see where volunteers could be closely involved in the day to day work. What if an organization does not have such an obvious volunteer opportunity? What if the work of the nonprofit requires licenses or special expertise to carry out? It’s time to get creative.

Millennial Magazine - nonprofits feeding-homeless-body

There are a number of ways to engage younger volunteers. This includes opportunities for them to meet the people receiving the services, getting them involved in a young professionals board, creating mentoring opportunities for them with younger clients and even tapping their particular expertise, such as accounting or marketing for “skilled volunteering” ways they can help the nonprofit.

The key is to create a connection with the mission of the organization and the people it serves. As long as that is being accomplished in a meaningful way, there is no wrong way to proceed. Here are some that nonprofits should consider:

Start With Where They Work

Surveys show that millennials choose their places of employment based on more than just salary and location. More than preceding generations, this group wants to work for an organization that has a social purpose. This is a great opportunity for nonprofits to engage not only the new young supporters and volunteers, but to find organizations they work for that believe in giving back to the community. Nonprofits need to engage these companies and find a way to align their mission with the social responsibility goals of the companies.

The first way to achieve this cooperation can be by leveraging existing supporters. Sometimes they can solicit the support of their companies. As with the earlier example of mass mailing and telemarketing, this support usually takes the form of a much appreciated check. If a supporter is willing to encourage a team of younger employees within her corporation to raise money for the nonprofit, it can be a win for both the nonprofit and the company, as it will create a community atmosphere and a sense of purpose. Remember that having one or two focused activities is far more effective than trying to engage the group in every fundraiser.

Another way to engage young professionals at work is through employee resource groups within companies that focus on their group activities, community support or social responsibility goals. If one of these groups aligns with your mission, then that is a perfect way to get involved with a company. In addition, many of the individuals involved with these dedicated groups are the younger, socially conscious individuals. Reaching out to the leader of one of these affinity groups is a great way to start.

Create a Young Professionals Board

Oftentimes, the Board of Directors seems like an untouchable mountain peak for people in the early stages of their careers. Besides being a prestigious position that looks great on a resume, it provides an opportunity for professionals to network with other successful people to make a real difference in a nonprofit’s strategic direction and success. The question many young professionals ask is how do I get on a Board of Directors when I have never done it before?

By creating a Board specifically for young professionals, a nonprofit creates a situation that is extremely beneficial for both the board members and the organization. The organization gets access to a group of excited future leaders who will fall in love with the mission of the nonprofit. The board members get an opportunity to experience being on a Board, and all of the benefits that come with it. They get the chance to volunteer and give back to an organization while also being able to improve their resume and network with other young professionals.

Millennial Magazine - Student-volunteers-body

While creating this board, there are a few things that should be considered:

  • The board should be held to the same professional standards as the Board of Directors.
  • There should be a maximum number of members. If they have a full roster of engaged members, then this is a good problem to have!
  • Consider having the Chairperson of the Young Professionals Board as a voting member of the Board of Directors. This ensures their input is received and offers another opportunity for experience.
  • Encourage the group to hold their own annual fundraising event and to participate in at least one other event hosted by the nonprofit.
  • Host opportunities for both Boards to get together. This means networking for the younger group, but the experienced professionals also enjoy the fresh perspectives of the new members.
  • Consider a small minimum donation enforced by the officers of the board. This sets a monetary commitment to being part of the group.

The Young Professionals Board can be an amazing opportunity for the nonprofit organization and its members. This group should also be a natural place to identify future members of the Board of Directors.

No matter how a nonprofit decides to engage millennials, there can be no doubt that it should be an important part of a sound Development strategy. While no one wants to ignore the longtime donors and supporters, ongoing outreach with them must be in coordination with a strategic plan to engage future contributors to the organization. As a group, young professionals are very socially conscious. They just prefer to be engaged in a different way than generations past.

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Paul Medeiros


Leicester, MA

As President and CEO of Easter Seals Massachusetts, Paul Medeiros is the youngest CEO in 70+ Easter Seals worldwide. An Occupational Therapist, Paul uniquely understands Easter Seals’ mission to ensure people with disabilities have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play. He is deeply committed to empowering tomorrow’s leaders.

All posts by Paul Medeiros

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