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Elusive Young Donors and How to Catch Them


Connie Jiang

Every few weeks, I receive a letter from my alma mater asking me to give back to the college that provided me four years of fun, friends, and academic adventure.

As much as I loved my college experience, I haven’t loved the tactics my alma mater uses to get recent graduates, like me, to give back to the college. Vanilla ‘ask’ letters, pestering phone calls, and memberships into selective (and very expensive) alumni organizations often turn young donors away.

In an opinion article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Alicia Bonner Ness lists five things nonprofits should never do when trying to attract young “millennial” donors. Though we millennials have a lot of excuses for not giving (i.e. lower paying jobs, school loans), our generation is civically engaged and passionate. We love supporting social causes (look at Kony 2012), when given a reason and outlet to rally.

Organizations don’t need a fancy book, a la Wendy Kopp’s One Day All Children, or public support from celebrities to attract young donors. All it takes is a little social media know-how, a user-friendly website, and a few powerful stories to share.

Ness’ list of five things nonprofits should never do when attracting the millennial generation is certainly true, but at the end of the day, what young donors want is a way to connect to organizations and people around the world. It’s the narratives of human experience that really matter. Social media, flashy videos, and innovative websites are only tools for sharing stories that empower, educate, and involve us.

The other day, I met a prospective student who was considering applying to my alma mater. She needs a great deal of financial aid in order to attend, but her unbridled enthusiasm and compelling story struck a chord. That day I wrote a check and wrote on the memo line: “thanks for the academic adventure.”