So here’s the bad news. According to a recent report from The Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteerism rates for millennials continue to trend downward.
Millennials, people under age 35, had the lowest rates of volunteerism, at just under 22 percent. By contrast, nearly 24 percent of people age 65 and older gave time to charities.
Of course, volunteering their time isn’t the only way millennials give. But this does reflect a broader trend, as charities face down a support bottleneck with fewer, wealthier, donors supplying an increasing share of their funding. Meanwhile, millennials face a greater struggle to amass wealth and less time outside of work than previous generations.
But here’s the thing: Millennials certainly want to volunteer. Cone Communications’ 2016 Millennial Employment Engagement Study showed that millennials as a group value volunteering at a higher rate than the national average, including opportunities both during and outside of work hours.
The telling metric here is the percentage jump between younger and older millennials, and it may explain why so many who value volunteering don’t actually show up—and what NFPs can do about that in 2017.
According to The Millennial Impact Report Retrospective, older millennials (and older millennial women) give more money—and five years of data showed a correlation between larger donations and increased volunteer hours.
Additionally, the report found that millennial engagement follows a pattern of casual interest in many causes, which subsequently gives way to sustained interest in several causes. NFPs see returns from these dedicated supporters who engage their friends on social media to provide further support.
But millennials aren’t the golden goose of sustainable giving just because they live online—and there’s a big difference between how they give to one of the initial charities they browse and how they give to the few with which they bond long-term. The former outcome may lead to a one-time donation, but the latter could mean gaining a trusted, long-term ally.
WHAT COMES NEXT
So how should your NFP’s volunteer communications team focus their messaging to cultivate and sustain millennial supporters? Here are three approaches you should incorporate in 2017:
- Retention, retention, retention: Any strategy for millennial communications is going to have to prioritize retention as much as awareness. Manage your expectations—not everyone is able or ready to volunteer yet. They need to know that their continued support is appreciated and makes an impact. Here’s a good place to start.
- Sharing works: And not just when it comes to digital outreach—we’re talking about the relationship you build with your millennial supporters, which is a two-way street. The MI Retrospective found that millennial philanthropic engagement is most often aligned with opportunities to share and build their own professional skills. This could mean teaming up with a corporate partner for employee engagement or organizing a volunteer event specifically for young volunteers to learn from older and more experienced supporters, thereby strengthening the community around your cause.
- Strike while the iron’s hot: If you work for an NFP that’s mobilizing against potential challenges of the new presidential administration, act on what the polling data shows: the majority of millennials voted blue. Right now, they want to do something—and while they might have been inspired to forego their holiday gifts this year in lieu for donations, you need to take a longer view. Show them that you have a plan for the next four (or eight) years—and that their support is a crucial part of it.
Direct your energies where they make the most difference, and don’t miss out on the chance to turn your new millennial supporters from curious to serious.