By: Caylin Haldeman 

Anyone who has been on Facebook over the last year could tell you – fundraising looked very different in 2020. Online giving in its many forms (such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer) has never been more popular. The Blackbaud Institute’s 2020 Charitable Giving Report found that online giving grew 21% in 2020, while charitable giving as a whole grew just 2%.  

In Next Stage’s work, a core part of our job is to stay up-to-date on industry trends and societal change. We do this to help our partners navigate any “unprecedented change” and the “new normal” du jour, ultimately so they can be confident about their pathway forward.  

The obvious cause for this digital shift, according to our research? The COVID-19 pandemic. Duh, you might say. Fundraising events were cancelled left and right and online campaigns took off while we were all stuck at home, trying mightily to stay plugged in and rooted in community. But we’d argue that there is more here than meets the eye. The pandemic just sped up a digital shift that was already happening due to a phenomenon that happens every 25 years or so: generational change.  

Before we expanded our team, I was (lovingly?) referred to as the Next Stage resident millennial. I’m thrilled to have a couple more millennial colleagues on board now who join me in getting our nonprofit partners excited about how this generation wants to engage in social good. We’re more than the avocado toast and selfies that major publications have labelled us with over the last decade or so.  

Get this – Forbes calls us the Most Generous Generation. A quick Google search surfaces dozens of listicles outlining the myriad ways in which millennials are transforming charitable giving. We’ve even written on this topic before – exploring how the millennial perception of “giving back” is changing. We know that millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce – and with that, has significant spending (AKA giving) power.

So how do nonprofits build fundraising strategies to engage and capitalize on these well-documented trends in millennial approaches to giving back? Here are three ways to get started: 

Embrace virtual fundraising platforms. 

Its time. If your nonprofit isn’t using a virtual fundraising platform (think Flipcause, Givebutter, MobileCause and more – see a list of reviews here), consider getting onboard. If you elect not to use a new virtual platform, be intentional and strategic in how you plan to engage donors online in future campaigns. Ensure campaigns have convenient mobile-friendly giving options and connect to social media.  

Use social media to tell short, meaningful stories.  

Millennials care about results more than reputation. They look for authenticity and resonate most with grassroots organizations doing the work on the ground instead of established institutions with recognizable leadership and entrenched brand identity. Social media is easily the most powerful tool for nonprofits to tell stories about their impact – in fact, millennials often find out about new causes or organizations to support because of viral campaigns. Use these platforms to engage with new donor audiences and grow your prospect pool.

Reframe charitable giving as personal brand.  

More so than previous generations, millennials are interested in participating in monthly giving. Increasingly, this generation wants their charitable giving to translate to a sense of belonging, To capitalize on this desire, create a monthly giving program that provides donors with an identity that they can build into their online persona and an opportunity to engage with others 

These suggestions are all focused on connecting with younger donors where they are online. While traditional offline forms of charitable giving obviously still play a huge role in fundraising, it is critical that nonprofits start expanding digital platforms now to meet donor expectations. 

As I write this, I am aware that Gen Z is right behind us. The oldest members of that generation, born after 1996, have joined the workforce. Gen Z are being referred to as “Philanthroteens – and Classy’s Why America Gives 2020 report showed that 66% of Gen Z donated to pandemic- and social justice-related organizations in 2020 (compared to 57% of millennials).  

These individuals are even more embedded in the digital landscape, with shorter attention spans and more access to an overwhelming amount of information that ever before. Research shows that they use digital tools for “social good, not social currency,” and they care deeply about global social issues because they are forced to confront them online. We’ll have to get our incoming Davidson Research Fellow – who will join our team this May – to share some first-hand perspectives on Gen Z’s approach to social good this summer.  

In the meantime, the coming force of Gen Z is all the better reason to establish a virtual giving platform, update those social media profiles and get comfortable with storytelling in a variety of digital formats (even, dare I say it, Tik Tok? Clubhouse?). We’d bet our bottom dollar that digital giving and virtual engagement continue to grow rapidly during 2021 and beyond.