Leveraging Millennials – The New Majority

“How do I get the new majority (Millennials) hyped on my peer-to-peer event?”

Frustrated on this front? You are not alone. In last week’s blog, I wrote about “cracking the Millennial code.” Three defining characteristics of Millennials—individualism, digital presence and a desire for charitable participation—combine to make peer-to-peer a particularly effective way to access their resources and energy. But as many of us have experienced firsthand, that can be easier said than done.

To get help, I asked Vickie LoBello, new to my staff and qualified through her work with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, as vice president of Relay in California, and St. Baldrick’s Foundation, as chief development officer. Here’s her take:

While many nonprofit peer-to-peer programs have been able to connect with the Millennial audience based on school or institution structures, the audience often does not transition to post-academia participation. Why is that?



Here’s why those institutions foster participation:

  • The opportunity to lead and grow skills.

  • The opportunity to make decisions.

  • The events and the institution have the same target audience.

Our challenge is keeping students engaged after they graduate and move on to a professional and family life of their own.



Volunteers new to non-academic life are focused on beginning their careers and are not as well-connected to a new peer group. And, they are keeping up with their old peer group digitally, without the chance for on-the-ground interaction, like serving as a leadership volunteer or team captain.

Additionally, even if they carry their passion for your cause to their new life, getting involved at the community level can feel like a shoe that is three sizes too small. These students were big fish before transitioning to their community, which in many cases is an urban environment. Now they are in the ocean and the ways to differentiate themselves are more limited. Even though it is difficult to reach them, the nonprofit sector can help these potential volunteers be more connected in their community through their leadership in fundraising for your organization.

I believe do-it-yourself fundraising has many elements that are attractive to the Millennial audience leaving academia. The strongest DIY programs have elements of goal and project fundraising, clear timelines for implementation, messaging and opportunities that allow them to connect online with their peer group, and virtual support from staff. Take, as an example, Children’s Miracle Network Extra Life. This peer-to-peer fundraising experience is served up online, connecting peers digitally. Extra Life also offers its constituents leadership opportunities via its Guild system, volunteer leaders who influence the system. That leadership opportunity is delivered primarily online, with a few on-the-ground opportunities.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge taught us that peer-to-peer fundraising can be viral. While this type of viral effect is rare, it is reproducible on a smaller scale. As we continue to grow DIY, looking for areas where virtual engagement can work will aid in attracting the Millennial audience. While this will not necessarily connect them to a new network in their current community, it is a way for them to engage with their collegiate friends, after college.

Millennials want to know how their efforts or their donations are changing the world. This is a tough nut to crack for some nonprofits which struggle to define unmet need and demonstrate meeting need. If your organization spends a great deal on a specific mission element, you can generate interest and fund that specific mission element with peer-to-peer by building the campaign around it.

As a parent of two Millennials and a nonprofit professional who has had the opportunity to work with volunteers and staff from this group, I can tell you that they are worthy of our efforts. Additionally, like other groups before, they want to be seen as individuals, rather than the aggregate, and the key to success is building relationships with individual leaders. We can all learn new things in working with the new majority.

I like working with smart people, like Vickie LoBello. They make blogging fun (and easy).