How to mobilize young people for social good.

January 2022

Is the old approach to online fundraising for the charitable and nonprofit sector failing?

How many young people (under 30) are on your mailing list?

For years the charitable and nonprofit sector have been relying on a deft mix of content, campaign, and email marketing to raise money.

1. Draw people in over time with content and campaigns.
2. Steward donors with relevant mailing list content + other more personal touches.
3. Call for donations when the time is right + the need is there.

But this (at least from what I’m seeing) doesn’t seem to be pulling in young donors. Donor attrition is happening as a matter of course, but replenishing lists with young/engaged donors isn’t.

The old approach is showing signs of decay.

The problem is that connecting with and converting young people is a very different beast.

In this article I’ll speak to the key three problems I see:
1. Email isn’t what you think it is.
2. Follower ≠ Donor
3. The phenomena of community aid, GoFundMe, and kinship ties.

I’m doing this as social cause marketer whose worked with more than 80 nonprofits/social enterprises — yes.

I’m also doing it as a Gen Z myself, who spent an alarming amount of my screen-time on TikTok in the past year and who opens up Instagram first thing in the morning (not things I’m proud of by the way — but if you can’t be honest on LinkedIn where can you be).

After I point out the problems — I may even try to be an “entrepreneur” about it and propose some solutions.

My question for people/fundraisers in the nonprofit/charitable sector:

Is the foundation of this post built on the right analysis? Is this in fact a problem for you? Or am I making a big deal of natural ebs and flows?

As always, I’m genuinely fascinated by any responses. If you EVER want to chat about engaging young people in your social cause/business just DM me. I’m very much around.

1. Email isn’t what you think it is.

What’s your relationship with email?

For most young people, email has become a lot like snail mail:
• Mostly flyers
• Sometimes updates from relevant bureaucratic entities
• Never anything socially interesting
• Your Grandma’s e-cards

The reality for young people is that:
• Most work gets done on things like Slack
• Social interactions go down on iMessage and Instagram DM
• Networking happens on LinkedIn
• Social planning goes down on Messenger

If you’re a charity, nonprofit, or social enterprise — what group of activities do you want to situate yourself in?

Do you want to become the flyer that floods into an inbox with 3,604 unread emails (most young people don’t care about getting to inbox zero because it doesn’t matter that much)?

No, you want to situate yourself in spaces where people are connecting, growing, and planning.

Want to connect with young donors online? Great! Then dislodge the belief that email still plays a super important active role in their lives.

Instead, focus on positioning yourself effectively in the spaces we inhabit.

IMPORTANTLY, email still plays a vital role. In something like a crowd-funding campaign — email is still a super key tool. It’s just not your only one. It may not even be your main one.

The PROBLEM though? You can’t just replace “joining the newsletter” with “follow us on Instagram” as your main CTA. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Later this week I’ll explain why Followers ≠ Donors — and what you can do to deal with that.

Again, if you ever want to chat about how to get young people mobilized around social causes through the right blend of creativity and strategy, DM me! I’m open.

2. Follower ≠ donor.

How do you build a “Cause Community”, digitally?

It’s a really hard question — and it’s one that we get a lot from potential clients. I’ll tell you some tactics, but I want to start with the what and the why.

Cause Community (noun).
A group of people who are united in their care for your issue. Their connection is not only to you, but to each other. They are “qualified” names on your CRM. They show regular support — through donations, purchases, shares, and volunteerism.

Taking real time to develop a community of support, as opposed to a “donor list”, is worth it for three reasons:

1. Resilience.
This community will stick with you. Maybe it’s an economic downturn, maybe different issues rise to the top of the media ecosystem. A cause community is resilient to change — meaning your organization can be too.

2. Recurrence.
Your goal with a “Cause Community” should be conversions to monthly donations/purchases. Recurring revenue is the foundation for innovation (social innovation included).

3. Reliability.
You can go to this community when you need support — and expect it. The key to successful fundraising campaigns is activating the people who trust and love your work Start building that trust now.

This is real work. Community-building means getting on the ground, interacting, and storytelling (constantly).

But running a ton of Facebook ads will leave you with silicone supporters.

So here are some clear steps:
1. Storytelling as the foundation.
You need to find a great brand or campaign message that will help you carve out a special spot in your supporter’s brain. Then, you need to get really good at telling that story beautifully, over and over again — digitally and in person.

(and I’m just going to shamelessly plug here because it’s LinkedIn and you can all guess why I’m writing this post: this is what My Media Creative is really good at — you should work with us).

2. Direct engagement with followers.
Instagram followers ≠ supporters — BUT you can do some work to drive conversion. When someone follows you, message them. Ask them how they came about your cause. Start a bit of a conversation about their interests, likes, and dislikes.

Then, when you have some sort of CTA go back to them in your DMs and send it. They’ll feel more compelled to engage because they’ve talked to you before (and, you’ll more likely end up in their Primary DM inbox).

3. Spokesperson marketing + community engagement.
Use your people as brand-champions on social and IRL as much as possible. People like talking to people, not brands. The only catch: you need to get REALLY good at telling the story.

4. Events.
This is obvious I think: meet people. Gather them. Provide a compelling reason for them to come out and basically just chill together (digitally and in-person). Don’t build didactic programming — build fun and interactive experiences.

There’s a lot more to this — but I’m running up against LinkedIn’s word limit. DM me if you want to chat more.

3. GoFundMe and Community Support.

Youth are donating! Just not in the way you think.

In 2020, 2/3 Instagram stories that I saw were about a social cause. Interestingly, GoFundMe campaigns, PayPal addresses, Venmos — and other requests for community aid are the most common form of donation solicitation that exist in my social media ecosystem.

What does this say?

The most interesting thing for me, honestly, is that they are stepping in to provide a social safety net. Many solicitations for community support ask for funds to offset the cost of things that should be covered by governments. I think that the need and success of these campaigns comes down to a couple key “truisms” that run through more progressive groups of young people:
1. Capitalism is ruthless, and often unjust.
2. Opportunity, and thereby economic security, has been destroyed or made inaccessible for many folks.
3. The government is failing to offset these economic issues.

Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the community to provide aid where systems have failed. It’s genuinely a fascinating phenomenon — especially considering that it is often paired with a very legitimate and well articulated critique/mistrust of modern-day philanthropy/charity.

The crux of this critique is simple (and well known to many):
1. Philanthropy is still a pretty centralized practice for the powerful.
2. Donating to charities only addresses the symptom, but doesn’t attack the ailment (structural injustice).
3. Worse yet, donating to charities allows us to feel better and provides fodder that can be used to decrease pressure on powerful institutions to address structural injustice.

Basically, charity/philanthropy in the way that it’s done doesn’t empower the kind of structural change we need to undertake — in fact, in some cases, it hinders it.

The emergence of community aid as an alternative seems to allow for a practice of donating to exist within this framework.

What should the social sector do about this? I’m genuinely not sure yet. This is just what I’m seeing. But, I want to make sure that we don’t dismiss these critiques or simply mime out these values to attract young audiences.

This goes beyond marketing, and forces us to ask what the purpose of the social sector should be in the 21st century. That’s a longer discussion.

This article was originally published on Medium on November 19th, 2021.