Millennial Giving Trends: How to Inspire Young Alumni to Donate

Millennials are changing what it looks like to give back to the world. Unlike the generations that came before them, they do not practice philanthropy from an inherent sense of duty or responsibility. Millennials are seeking to impact the world with not only their money, but also with their time, their talent, and their social networks.

We love Millennials. In fact, many of us here at USEED are Millennials. And we love analyzing what inspires them to give to an organization. We believe that as we unlock your young alumni’s giving trends, we can establish a pattern that younger generations (such as Generation Z) are likely to follow.


Cause-based giving vs institution

Real talk: With 1.5 million non-profits vying for support for their meaningful initiatives, it is becoming increasingly challenging for higher education institutions to win gifts and engagement from their young alumni.

And when you take into consideration that 75% of Millennials would prefer to give to one of those cause-based non-profits over your institution, well, Houston, we have a problem.

But the secret is spelled out right there: cause-based. Millennials are less interested in sending their money off to an institution, as they often view institutions as corporations who don’t actually need their money. Therefore, any organization that asks for a Millennial’s financial support for an unspecified cause with an unspecified impact is going to fall short of winning those gifts more often than not.

According to doctoral student J Travis McDearmon in his article What’s in it for me: A qualitative look into the mindset of young alumni non-donors, a common theme in young alumni’s perception of their alma mater can be summed up as this:

“I feel that the university already receives a large number of donations from corporations and wealthy individuals. I don’t think that this money is used effectively. I would donate to improving the student education experience.”

He then goes on to share how higher education institutions could rectify this concern. Here is a young alumni’s response that McDearmon noted highlights Millennial thinking:

“I would be inclined to give money if that donation were to go to specific special projects that affect the student experience, such as an improved student medical center, a larger recreation and fitness center, or an academic building that directly benefits students (not research facilities, administrative buildings or office buildings).”

At the end of the day, the most powerful way to engage your young alumni is to showcase a cause they care about. Instead of going against the wind, turn around and walk with your Millennial campus stakeholders. What do they care about? What would they like to financially support at your institution? Is there a way to bring those causes to light, through, say, crowdfunding?


The importance of peer influence

There is a reason people today trust online reviews for companies, products, and services before they trust the people selling them. With the rise of technology has come a rise of information, and as a result, a rise of empowered, informed decisions.

Peer influence – whether in person or through social media – is real for Millennials. In fact, 70% of them determine whether to make purchases based on their friends’ online opinions.

Seventy percent!!!

If you think philanthropy is the exception to that rule, consider this: The 2015 Millennial Impact Report states that while 25% of employed millennials would donate if their supervisor did so, almost 50% would if a peer or coworker asked them to.

With this in mind, we recommend empowering your students and young alumni with a platform to share your school’s philanthropic initiatives with each other. Recognize that their social influence could be a powerful asset that could transform the way they (and their peers) relate to your office and your institution. You might be surprised what new relationships this could unlock!


Time, money, and network have equal value

Giving today doesn’t just include financial support. Young alumni want to invest their assets, which could include anything from their talents and skills to their personal networks.

We know how important financial support is for your institution. However, we also know the power of asking students and young alumni for an investment of something other than their finances. These may seem at odds with each other, but the good news is that there is a way to marry both your institution’s budget requirements, and your young alumni’s desire to make meaningful change with the assets they want to offer.

So, for example, if you plan to crowdfund on behalf of a cause on your campus to win new donors and engage students and young alumni, ask them to collaborate on the campaign page or video. Or ask them to share the campaign with their personal networks. Or ask them how they want to be involved with the campaign.

Providing various ways to get involved is especially powerful when you consider that over 40% of donors volunteer before making a financial contribution, and that 50% of volunteers say that doing so leads them to contributing more financial support!

So empower Millennials to be philanthropic on their own terms. They will likely be more excited to support an initiative if you offer them different ways to get involved before asking for a financial gift.

They give where they live: online

More than any generation before them, Millennials are accustomed to getting the things they want almost instantaneously. This isn’t a reflection of poor character – it’s just the reality of the world they live in.

For example, Postmates allows customers to order food off their smartphones to be delivered anywhere, anytime. Amazon Prime delivers orders in under two hours. And they’re just a button’s click from streaming any movie, TV show, album, or game directly to multiple devices.

There’s no doubt that these advancements in technology encourage Millennials to expect effortless, on-demand experiences when they purchase something, and giving is no different. Your young alumni are online, and it is an effective ecosystem for them to connect with the world around them.

Simply put: If you want to be a part of their world, you’ll want to be a part of the online space where they reside.

Crowdfunding supports the quick and efficient online experience that your young alumni have come to expect. They want to learn about your initiative in their own time (ahem, your campaign page), and they want to give online (ahem ahem, your online donation field).


A gift’s impact

The future of giving is in showing your donors the impact of their gift. Studies have found that doing so not only increases donor happiness, but it engages the 57% of Millennials more likely to give when they can see how their donation makes a difference.

In one of our favorite fundraising studies by Evertrue, Steve Savage, Associate Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Ithaca College, puts it best:

“There’s greater skepticism about how money is spent. Young alumni want to see how their dollars are used. We have to realize donors want more control over their donations, and we need to show how that support impacts the day-to-day lives of our students.”

Reconnect and build trust with your students and young alumni by not just saying that their donation is valuable, but by showing how it will be used to better your campus, and more importantly, the student experience.

Crowdfunding is an incredible tool to show impact, whether you do so for your Annual Fund, a specific department on campus, or a social cause that your school would be excited to rally around. Creating a page where you transparently say, “this is the impact your gift could make,” could revolutionize the way your students and young alumni engage with your office and institution.

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