IU Center on Philanthropy and Charities and Donors and Fundraising and Gifts and Philanthropic Research and Philanthropy

Survey: Online generation values personal touch in giving

April 10, 2010

Although young people prefer to communicate online, the best way to ask them for donations is face to face.

That’s according to a recent survey by fund-raising consultants Johnson Grossnickle Associates in Greenwood and Achieve in Indianapolis.

The results of the survey may come as a surprise to not-for-profit executives who think the Internet generation doesn’t require a personal touch.

“There’s a tendency for people in the field to think technology is going to be so overwhelmingly important, it’s going to change what’s fundamentally a very human interaction,” said Ted Grossnickle, CEO of JGA.

Grossnickle and Achieve CEO Derrick Feldmann teamed up to conduct the survey for the benefit of clients. Many organizations have established a presence on social media Web sites such as Facebook, Feldmann said, and now they’re looking for the next steps.

donors barThe Millennial Donors survey was conducted online from Jan. 1 to March 15. About 2,200 people, ages 20 to 40, participated. (Although the survey included people who are not of the millennial generation, the survey authors note that a significant number of responders, 30 percent, were ages 25 to 29.)

Here are some key findings:

• E-mail was the top form of communication with friends and colleagues (99.2 percent), followed by Facebook (83 percent) and texting (66 percent).

• Ninety-five percent had responded to volunteer requests via e-mail, 34 percent had responded through Facebook, and 8 percent had responded to a text message.

• Eighty percent had used e-mail to donate money, 14 percent had used Facebook, and 18 percent had texted a gift. (The survey coincided with text-based fund-raising drives for victims of the Haiti earthquake.)

• If asked for a donation in person, 39 percent said they were likely to give; 27 percent said they were “highly likely” to do so.

• If asked via e-mail, 29 percent said they were likely to give, while 44 percent were somewhat likely to give.

• Requests by other means may be less effective: Thirty-eight percent said they were somewhat likely to give if asked via Facebook, and 53 percent said they were not likely. Seventy-nine percent said they were not likely to respond to a text.

Millennials, loosely defined as people born from 1982 to 2000, are a tough crowd. Past studies have found that fewer of them give. When they do, the average size of their gifts is smaller than those from older generations, said Melissa Brown, associate director of research at IU’s Center on Philanthropy.

Grossnickle said some organizations already are feeling the impact of that trend. In higher education, for example, the portion of people younger than 35 who make a gift to their alma mater has been dropping since 2000. Ten years ago, about 12 percent of younger alumni made gifts, he said, but it’s now in the single digits.

Brown believes the giving habits of millennials will change as their incomes rise, and they pay down college debt.

But Grossnickle said the recent survey suggests young people can become philanthropists now. For example, 42 percent of respondents said they had donated $300 or more in the past year.

“Maybe organizations have not been finding ways to get them engaged,” Grossnickle said.

Brown noted that people responding to the JGA-Achieve survey probably already established a relationship with a not-for-profit. The survey was promoted to constituents of five unnamed organizations, including two colleges and a national youth leadership group.

Brown said the results are still worth noting.

“To me, there is an opportunity for homeless shelters and art museums to also engage with this cohort,” Brown said. “They have to go where the kids are.”

After seeing the results of the survey, Feldmann said he would recommend a “multi-channel” approach.

Millennials want to have input on how their money is spent, even when they aren’t giving large amounts. That could mean board members should spend time with these young donors—a practice that’s traditionally reserved for people who make major gifts.

“These donors want to have more than a solicitation through direct mail, or technology,” Feldmann said.•

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