November 19, 2017
 
Creating Fundraising Experiences to Reach Millennial Donors

By Julie Walker

Reaching Millennials is critical to fostering your nonprofit’s newest and next generation of donors, and it requires expanding beyond galas and other traditional forms of fundraising.

Any nonprofit thinking about longevity has likely pondered how to engage Millennials – Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, who make up the largest generation in the U.S. and comprised one-third of the total population in 2013.

While galas often still serve a fundraising purpose and reach an important part of your network, the next generation of philanthropists is not rising up through the gala pipeline.

Nonprofits don't have to ditch the gala: many organizations still benefit from these dinners, which often draw larger donations and opportunities to connect with supporters of the cause. But as the more gala-inclined philanthropists retire, nonprofits that have not been building relationships with younger donors will be left with a gap.

Millennials demand unique, live, and engaging experiences, and many nonprofits have caught on to the need to create memorable experiences and gotten creative with great success. Those considering how to shake up their fundraising activities should take note of the characteristics these experiential events have in common.

Unique, New, and Different Win the Race

There’s a reason MuckfestMS – the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's mud run –drew over 5,000 “muckers”and 200 volunteers earlier this year. The event offers a unique experience that is a far cry from a sit-down dinner, and even from the traditional 5K.

The days of being sponsored for each mile you walk have given way to activities like skydiving for charity. Websites that pair nonprofits with a range of skydiving experiences have sprung up, and numerous headlines praise those who raised money for a cause by jumping out of a plane. Events can also be more unique by offering an experience not open to everyone.

Look at Millennials’ social media pages, and chances are you’ll be hard pressed to find selfies taken at more traditional fundraising events. Rather, you will see them experiencing something that is one-of-a-kind: a themed fun run, a concert, or an exclusive tour.

Fun Runs Are, Well, Fun

Adding a creative element is important; you’ll notice that spin-a-thons and fun runs play off of activities that young people already enjoy. Fundraisers did not invent mud runs and spin classes, but they turned these events and hobbies into charitable endeavors, meeting young people where they are to get them engaged.

An enjoyable charity event does not always involve jumping from a plane or dashing through the mud. Several organizations have held successful cocktail parties that add fun elements like photo booths and “sweet bars.”

Regular gala attendees are likely to buy tickets not for the experience alone, but as a result of their engagement with a given organization. Events that reach Millennials set a different bar: they have to be fun and interesting. Now is the time to think outside the box about events that supporters will want to attend year after year for the experience.

“You Know it Didn’t Happen if It’s not on Social Media”

The above quote is from Charity Skydive’s website, before explanations of how charity sky divers can capture photos and video of the experience. The Muckfest MS event had crowds cheering on muckers not only in person, but via Facebook Live.

Unique events are less exciting if they happen in a vacuum. These days, they have to be shareable. Cameras capturing video and photo, and opportunities for one-of-a-kind selfies, will attract those who seek to share their experiences online. They’ll also create another layer of publicity via social media. Consider how hashtags and other uses of social media can be an integral part of your event.

Capturing photo and video should also be a priority for promotional reasons. This content is effective when repurposed and used on your website and in videos that tell your story. If you have a fun and lively event, repurpose video and images of its best moments to encourage others to get involved in the future.

Any nonprofit can play off of these ideas to create fun, memorable, and shareable experiences. As you’re doing so, pay attention to changing trends.

A 2013 Boston Magazine article called spin-a-thons “the New 5K.” While these events are still at the height of their popularity, who knows when skydiving will be the new spin-a-thon? Following these trends will help you stay on the cutting edge, but to be truly innovative, add a spark of originality unique to your nonprofit event. Making your event stand out puts you on the path to making it a must-attend, and it helps you create lasting relationships that are critical to your long term mission.

Julie Walker is a partner at Cramer, a brand experience agency, where she specializes in the health care and nonprofit industries. Email to her at jwalker@cramer.com or call 781-278-2565.

November 2016

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