We are in the middle of a small-dollar donor crisis. Right now, campaigns are seeing more online donations than ever before. The money is great, but here’s the problem: The vast majority of online donors are over the age of 60. As a result, it’s safe to say the donor population is finite and aging.
Enter the millennials, a generation even larger than the Baby Boomers.
When it comes to purchasing power, millennials have been touted as one of the most powerful demographics. And yet, they’re strikingly absent when it comes to donating to campaigns. Why?
It’s partly because millennials aren’t made of money. In fact, millennials are increasingly saddled with a student debt burden much higher than previous generations.
It’s also that they aren’t being courted because many fundraisers and consultants believe they won’t make a difference. What millennials can afford to give doesn’t feel significant in a high-dollar campaign where support from corporations and big rainmakers is what counts. So targeting these debt-ridden, small-dollar potential givers is considered a waste.
The feeling of apathy is mutual. With an increasing level of skepticism and mistrust of a “broken political system,” we would rather not give money to politicians upholding the status quo. The thinking goes, might as well spend $25 buying shares of Snap Inc., or brunching on avocado toast than giving another crook our money.
There’s also apathy of issues that aren’t directly relevant to them. Millennials feel like they’ll never be able to afford a house, so they’re not too keen to donate to campaigns that focus on interest rates and property taxes.
This brings us to the multi-million dollar question: How do you get these (allegedly) phone-obsessed, self-absorbed, overly idealistic millennials to chip in $25 a month for a campaign or cause?
The answer is simple. Meet them where they are.
On the issues: While Social Security and Medicare are front-of-mind for older donors, issues like student loan debt, women’s reproductive health care, LGBTQ equality, and environmental preservation and access drive Generation Y. Millennials, by design, are less inclined to reach for their credit cards for issues and causes (and even less likely for politicians), but following Bernie’s lead and focusing on issue areas that directly impact millennials will raise your profile with this persnickety generation — and then raise some dollars.
Online: This one might seem obvious. Millennials are not, and likely will never be, direct mail donors. They shop, order food, and find their romantic partners online — it makes sense they donate online, too. If you want that millennial money, make sure you’re online donation platform isn’t just set up, but also optimized for mobile. Not all millennial stereotypes may be true, but millennials won’t leave home without their phone. So, if you’re sending them to a donate page that looks like it was built in 2003, you can count the millennial dollar out.
IRL (“in real life” for the Gen Xers in the back): Millennials are all about elevating their social profile, while simultaneously trying to make a difference — and then immediately posting it online. You can bet, rallies, protests, and events like Pride will be chock full of millennials. One quick and surprisingly inexpensive way to get in front of millennials is by taking out Snapchat geofilters at these events. Spoiler: Snapchat geofilters start at just $5.
This summer, an LGBTQ civil rights organization created Snapchat filters at SF and LA Pride. For just a few hundred dollars, they got in front of 800,000 Snapchat users who care about LGBTQ rights. And while they didn’t make any money directly from the filters, that investment in brand recognition has been repaid on social and in fundraising emails asking them to chip in $5.
Psychologically: A big factor that holds millennials back from donating to a campaign is that they don’t think they can afford to donate anything “significant.” In a multi-million dollar campaign, they think, is my $10 contribution really going to make a difference? Yes! $10 will buy the campaign three clipboards, four lawn signs, or a stack of 1,000 flyers — quantifying the impact of a gift at the $5, $10, and $25 levels will go a long way.
Be genuine and transparent: People may think that millennials are too self-absorbed to pay attention to the news, but thanks to the 24/7 news cycle at our fingertips, you can bet that millennials see every story about candidates using campaign money to decorate their campaign offices with West Elm furniture, pay for private jets, and court major donors with four-figure steak dinners.
This type of quite frankly, reckless behavior only exacerbates millennial mistrust and skepticism of our current political system.
Millennials pay too much for a higher education, struggle too hard to pay outrageous rent prices and have been burned too many times by the “broken political system” to invest our money into a person or organization who’s going to spend our contribution on a $3,000 sofa.
So there you have it, the TL;DR on converting millennial donors. Cut the rhetoric, meet millennials where they are, let them know that their contribution — even a $5 gift — will make a difference and, most importantly, tell them how their money will be spent.
Cheryl Hori is the founder of Pacific Campaign House, a progressive digital campaign firm.