Millennials volunteer at a higher rate than GenXers and Baby Boomers did at their age–82.9% college freshman participated in community service in high school. This number is the silver lining from an otherwise gloomy portrait of my generation from the Journal of Social Psychology and Personality. Aside from our higher volunteer rates, millennials are more narcissistic, extrinsically motivated, aloof to social and environmental problems than the previous two generations. As I reluctantly concluded with a thorough look at this study in the previous article, we are Generation Me. Our selflessly high community service rate? Most likely due to high school graduation requirements and boosting college applications.
For nonprofits, this grim picture masks real opportunity. More young people than ever are interacting with nonprofits–let’s figure out how to hook them! By applying findings from the Journal of Social Psychology and Personality (JSPP) study and The Millennial Impact Report (MIR), nonprofits can make the most of their millennial volunteers and donors–and hopefully turn the tide of Generation Me to Generation We. Quick note on the studies’ methodology. I discussed in the previous post the nationwide surveys of 40+ years that led me to trust the JSPP’s statistics on painting an accurate picture of America’s 17 and 18 year olds at the time. The MIR surveyed a much more targeted audience. Out of the approximately 6,500 millennials surveyed, over 95% had at least a Bachelor’s degree and 66% were female. This imbalanced ratio makes the numbers less nationally credible, but still useful in tapping the mind of millennial donors (75% surveyed donated money in 2011).
Now, onto the fun stuff. Here’s how to capitalize on millennial volunteers, employees and potential donors using social media.
Social Media and Harnessing the Power of Slactivism
Millennials are sometimes criticized for slactivism, or the “slacker activism” of passively sharing something social media rather than donating money or time. With the JSPP findings that millennials spend more time talking about political events than previous generations, but significantly less time acting on them, the slactivist profile seems pretty accurate.
Yet, this Generation Me behavior can have positive, concrete actions for nonprofits. Think of the Kony2012 campaign, a viral video by Invisible Children shared primarily through Facebook to promote the prosecution of a known war criminal in Darfur. Despite the many cries of criticism, this video started an international dialogue about the issues surrounding the IRA. Many it was slactivism–but it certainly got people talking (and I bet Invisible Children’s donations skyrocketed).
Facebook is an incredibly important tool for nonprofits in regards to creating this sort of groundswell movement. When asked what type of nonprofit information they were most likely to share via Facebook, 69% of MIR millennials said “statistics” and 65% said “news”. When it comes to sharing content about a nonprofit, Facebook is king–especially when you consider that 81% of those interview subjects want to learn about potential volunteer opportunities through their peers (MIR). While it may not seem very concrete and may indeed be motivated by partially shallow means, slactivism certainly has an impact and may in fact translate into concrete action. The most likely content users were likely to share on Facebook were nonprofit “events” at 71% (MIR).
Yet, when the numbers get around to donations, they plummet. Only 30% would share donation news and 36% would share that they “made an impact” via Facebook (MIR). My take? Millennials are excited to share what they know with their friends, but less likely to ask for donations/bring money into the picture. For that, there’s Twitter.
Facebook is for organizing events and sharing content. Twitter is for building a community of like-minded followers and soliciting donations.
Twitter, with its brevity and real-time features, has the immediacy that Facebook lacks when it comes to soliciting donations. With only 140 characters, nonprofits must get to the point and communicate why they need money and how they’re going to spend it in a limited space. For a generation famous for low tolerance for fluff, this straight-to-the-point messaging has an impact.
In Mark Schaefer’s book Tao of Twitter (recently re-released with new content), he lists some compelling statistics about Twitter’s users: 70% publish blogs at least monthly and comment on blogs. This means that the followers you attract on Twitter are much more likely to be engaged in the cause, rather than the slactivist pattern of “like, share, forget”.
Twitter is also much more welcoming to new friends and people than Facebook, allowing nonprofits to approach followers they might not previously have connections with. I would never accept a friend request from a stranger, but I’ve never met 80% of the people I follow on Twitter!
Both social networks have a place for nonprofits, especially those on a shoestring budget. But here’s the bottom line: The main reason MIR’s millennials report to donating financially to charity is being moved “in the moment”. I’ve donated to charities I hadn’t heard of before from being inspired by a single tweet or post–a moment. The slackerist movement, while typical of Generation Me behavior, allows more and more people to access this moment where donating time or money can make a change.