Everywhere I go, I hear nonprofit leaders and board members talk about the same challenge — Millennials. How do you attract, engage, and leverage this group of individuals in their organization. There seems to be a strong sense of urgency to connect with as many of them as possible, as soon as possible. I was involved in several nonprofit gatherings over the last few weeks and this topic came up in most of them.

The most common millennial questions were…

  • Where are they and how do you find them?
  • What do they want?
  • How do we reach them?
  • How can we interest them in our organization?
  • What kind of activities will they enjoy so they bring in their friends as well?
  • How much can we realistically expect them to donate?
  • Should we snail mail information to them or is online the only way to reach them?
  • What kind of volunteering would they be willing to do?
  • And several more…

I completely get that agencies are working to broaden their volunteer and donor bases, and that engaging more people is always better… But I wonder if we will eventually scare millennials off with the current full frontal assault. Perhaps we need to take a step back and think this through.

As I listened to the ideas and possible solutions that were tossed around at these events, it became pretty clear most agencies have no strategy to recruit millennials nor any idea what to do with them if and when they are on board. They just know they are supposed to “go after” them. That sounds like a less-then-winning strategy.

So, here are 7 ways to better engage millennials in your nonprofit.

1. First, nonprofit leaders have to shed any preconceived notions they have about millennials, and there are plenty to go around. If that seems hard or unfair, remember millennials probably have many preconceived notions about you, whether you are a Boomer or Gen X, or whatever.

2. In some ways, it’s a lot like dating. First you meet them through common friends or during some nonthreatening social event. Then, you try to get to know them, see if you share any common interests to build upon, and decide whether to step up and ask them out (or, in this case, to come to some agency outing or event—without any expectations or obligations. From there, you decide if it’s a fit or not, and act accordingly.

3. Think of engaging millennials like you think (or should be thinking) of your social media strategy. Your ultimate stage one goal is to get them to: know, like and trust you. Once those hurdles have been overcome, the pathway to future engagement is much wider.

4. If you are unsure how to identify, recruit, and use millennials in your agency, why not just ask them? You can do this in a couple of ways. One is to simply gather together a group of millennials you know and have someone facilitate a fact-finding meeting. You can recruit participants form your own volunteer ranks, or ask your board members to encourage their millennials to help you out for this one-time-only debrief.  Form a Junior Board, or Advisory Council.

Think of this as group that you take certain topics to, seeking their input. Not boring, menial topics, but important stuff. This group can help you address some of the questions discussed earlier and can also serve as volunteers and recruit their like-minded friends to get involved. One word of caution, though. Be clear on the extent of their role and duties, and whether they have any decision-mailing authority or just recommendation authority. You don’t want to mislead them about how their input will be treated.

5. Have the chair of the Junior Board/Council serve as a full director with a seat on your board. This will send the message that you value millennials in leadership roles within your organization, and will give them a voice at board meetings.

6. As an alternative, establish a Millennial Issues Board Committee. That committee’s purpose would be to address all of these strategic questions surrounding millennials. Chaired by a board member, this committee would have several non-board member millennials serving on it. This could be a great way for an agency to engage millennials.

7. Your whole millennial attitude must be a two-way street. It is not just about “getting” them to participate in your agency. That is transactional. Your methodology with millennials should focus on developing a relationship with them; and not only that, but perhaps a transformational one.  Too often, leaders talk about what’s in it for the agency by engaging millennials. If we start thinking about what could be in it for the millennials, we might actually start making real progress on this issue.

Most importantly, remember that millennials — more then many generations — want to be involved in nonprofits. They want to make a difference. They want to serve their community. But they want to do it on their terms. Millennials think differently, communicate differently, and engage differently. If you change your expectations, and take time to get to know (and learn from) this generation, you may find their input vital to your organization. You may also find that they learn a lot from you.

Wondering how to get Millennials and Boomers together

to create a more powerful organization?