- Thu, March 14 2013
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
I’ve enjoyed teaming up with Kari Dunn Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann at several events over the years, and I’ve always been impressed with their insights on Millennials. They’ve now pulled together their thinking into a new book, Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. I asked them to provide a summary of the key points in the book for us, and here’s their post.
By Kari Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann
Like it or not, the Millennial Generation – those 80 Million of us born roughly between 1979-93, are hard to ignore if you are a leader of a nonprofit – or a leader of any sector for that matter. Sure, they may not be among your most active donors or largest contributors today, but these 20-30 something’s will soon become the recipients of the largest transfer of wealth from their Boomer and Greatest Generation parents and grandparents. So what does this mean for your organization? It’s time to start creating a culture of openness and dialogue with the Millennial Generation, before they start creating it without you.
Given the size and diversity of this generation, many executives become overwhelmed at the mere thought of where to begin. If this sounds like you, you’re far from alone. You’re coming into contact with Millennials in every facet of your work and life. You may be hiring them to lead your programs, to tweak your marketing strategies or even to develop and enhance your fundraising efforts. And if they’re not currently on staff, you’re either raising them yourselves or are connecting with Millennials when your donors or volunteers bring their children with them to fundraisers or events. You know they are out there, but with all of the competition for their attention, you’re just not sure what it will take to connect with them.
Before developing any Millennial engagement strategy, you must create a foundation, a platform, within your organization for such involvement. One that will ensure every employee, volunteer and donor has an appropriate role to play in order to achieve the greatest success. Creating this foundation will not happen overnight – for some it will take a complete shift in organizational culture. It will take an acceptance of opening up your organization to a generation that’s not only eager to involve themselves in your work but also eager to understand how you operate, how you generate money, and how you have impact. It is about releasing some of the control that may have prevented you from connecting with Millennials in the past. But, creating a platform for engagement requires ongoing resources and time. Without either of the two, almost all Millennial engagement programs are destined for failure. We know, we’ve watched many attempts at engaging Millennials fizzle into good intentions without results.
So how do you position the Millennial platform—and by extension, your organization—for success? You must BUILD it – and here’s how:
Be unified as an organization about working with the generation. This starts by getting every level of your organization interested in what this generation can provide. Most gravitate to the financial opportunities, but that’s the wrong framework to lead with. Instead, all leaders, both volunteer and paid, must understand and agree that engaging Millennials is a long-term investment and there are different starting points for cultivating them – most of which do not begin with the immediate transfer of dollars.
Understand the complexities of this generation’s environment. Beyond understanding why you should work with Millennials, appreciate the environment this generation is currently in and the environment in which they have grown up. We all live in a society that’s connected 24-7, but for the greater number of Millennials, they can hardly remember when that was not the case. They have a multitude of people, organizations, and brands competing for their limited attention spans. Take the time to understand and appreciate their environment and then you can create a role within that environment to engage them.
Identify those seeking to make a difference. For every uninterested Millennial, you can bet there’s a Boomer or Gen X-er who exhibits the same qualities. Forget them. You must find those who want to work with you to make meaningful change. Create calls to action that ask for Millennial leaders to identify themselves by inviting them into the process of creating solutions. Find Millennials in the community who want to take their participation to the next level and then have them engage their peers. This peer identification is a great brainstorming activity for your existing Millennial supporters and volunteers, and it’s a way to expand the network in a controlled but authentic way.
Lead through engagement rather than participation. Focus on conversational and relationship engagement. If you are going for pure numbers at your event, you may have short-term wins, but that doesn’t get at the heart of the platform. True engagement comes from attendees who return and tell their friends about your message. As an organization you can create new levels of engagement that focus on getting to know Millennials and their interests. Engagement means you understand how they want to communicate, participate, lead, and challenge the organization to be better.
Determine your own Millennial success. Before you begin, create a standard for Millennial success and engagement, and then institutionalize it. Some organizations do really well with Millennial engagement because they have defined what it means for their cause and how they want Millennials to be involved. They identify a starting point, a goal, and the steps they’ll take to get there. Help the organization you serve to understand those benchmarks and rally around them for short- and long-term success.
There’s no such thing as a silver bullet when developing your engagement strategy – we wish there was. It will take time for your organization to change its current thinking and culture, especially if your workforce like many includes all three generations in the workplace. But if you start your Millennial engagement strategy by incorporating elements of the BUILD concept, you will begin to lay the foundation for success in future campaigns, solicitations or volunteer calls to action.