Schools across the United States raised millions of dollars this Giving Tuesday (11/29/2016), signaling educational institutions’ most widespread embrace of the “global day of giving” event since it began in 2012.

Data collected from the Giving Tuesday efforts of 67 schools that used GiveCampus to raise more than $3 million during the day shows that this embrace proved extraordinarily fruitful—particularly for schools striving to reach donors under the age of 40.

Engaging the Notoriously Difficult

Of the 16,000-plus donors who made a gift to one of the schools using GiveCampus on Giving Tuesday, approximately half were Millennials or Post-Millennials (i.e., people born after 1979). This figure is significant because these are the populations that schools typically have the most difficulty engaging. As alumni participation rates (i.e. the percentage of alumni who give back to their alma mater) have steadily declined over the last decade, the shrinking giving rates of people in their 20s and 30s have been the greatest cause for concern.

Lackluster giving rates among Millennials and Post-Millennials are concerning not because people in their 20s and 30s have the capacity to make large donations—indeed, most do not. They are concerning because people with the capacity to make large donations most often do so only if they have been giving consistently for many years.

Charitable giving usually is not something that people “pick up” later in life. It is a learned behavior—a skill. Therefore, effectively reaching and engaging people in their 20s and 30s and getting them into a habit of giving is a long-term, strategic imperative—particularly as schools, both public and private, become increasingly dependent on private philanthropy.

Demographics Say A Lot

The significance of effectively reaching and engaging 20- and 30-year old donors is magnified by demographic shifts that have occurred over the last decade. Millennials and Post-Millennials have replaced Baby Boomers as the predominant population in the workforce and they are rapidly replacing Baby Boomers as the predominant population of consumers.

The problem for schools (and many other non-profits) is that they are not replacing Baby Boomers as donors. For this to occur, schools must adapt and reevaluate traditional strategies and approaches for fundraising and engagement. Schools’ widespread embrace of Giving Tuesday this year is in large part a reflection of schools taking steps in this direction.

Meeting Them Online

This embrace is part of a broader and growing realization that effectively engaging young people requires meeting them online, on mobile devices, and on social media.  Research on Millennials, like that conducted by The Millennial Impact Project, has for several years revealed that Millennials overwhelmingly prefer to donate online and that their peers and social networks play a critical role in influencing their giving behavior.  Non-profits in general, and schools in particular, have been slow to respond to these realities.

The Giving Tuesday data from schools using GiveCampus bears out these research findings and shows that many schools are catching on—and benefiting greatly for doing so.  It also shows the tremendous impact that Millennial and Post-Millennial behaviors and preferences have on overall trends.

Of all visitors to the schools’ Giving Tuesday webpages—including Baby Boomers and members of Generation X—46 percent were on mobile devices and 30 percent got to the webpage by clicking a post on Facebook or Twitter.

From Friend to Friend to Crowds

Further, of those visitors who made a charitable contribution—again, including Baby Boomers and members of Generation X—at least 14 percent did so in direct response to an appeal that they received from a friend or peer via email or social media.

The data also demonstrates the power of “the crowd” and the game-changing potential that exists for schools that can successfully broaden their donor base by more effectively reaching and engaging young people. Although donations from Baby Boomers were, on average, 3.7 times as large as donations from Millennials and Post-Millennials ($234 vs. $62), Millennial and Post-Millennial donors outnumbered Baby Boomer donors 2.3-to-1.  As a result, the total amount contributed by Baby Boomers and the total amount contributed by their children were of the same order of magnitude.

It turns out that successfully engaging Millennial and Post-Millennial donors is not only a long-term imperative: it can generate substantial benefits today.

While Giving Tuesday is just one day on schools’ fundraising calendars, the data from this Giving Tuesday illustrates the short- and long-term value of engaging donors online, on mobile devices, and on social media. And while research and surveys have for years shown that such strategies would be well-received by Millennials, we now know with certainty that they are effective with virtually all demographics—365 days a year.

About the Author:

Kestrel Linder is the Co-Founder & CEO of GiveCampus (www.givecampus.com), a social fundraising and engagement platform used by nearly 200 educational institutions in the United States and Europe. The data and analysis for this article were drawn from the Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts of 67 schools, ranging from small elementary schools and public high schools to liberal arts colleges and major research universities in more than 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. 51 of the 67 are institutions of higher education.


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