(Enter the young, yeah)
Yeah, they've learned how to think
(Enter the young, yeah)
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think but to care
Not only learned to think but to dare
Enter the young
Yeah, here they come
Well, some with questions, some decisions
Here they come
And some with facts and some with visions
Of a place to multiply without the use of divisions
To win a prize that no one's ever won…
I know I am dating myself, but these are some of the key lyrics from the lead song by the same name in The Association’s first album released in 1966, nearly 50 years ago. It was true back then, and it remains true today: the next generation, “the young,” are constantly coming up through the ranks, and they will be tomorrow’s leaders of society and culture. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot change this phenomenon!
But here is the obvious thing: not only is this reality universal and unstoppable, but as it unfolds it always brings change. New ideas. New ways of viewing reality. New ways of seeing the world and its possibilities for human life.
The difficult-to-understand thing, however, is that nonprofit organizations, intent on raising as much money as they can for the immediate future, often do not seem to give much credence to the importance of cultivating relationships with the next (younger) generation that is in their rear view mirror. Many nonprofits seem to be easy prey to the myopia that preoccupies them with concerns for current year over year donation growth among their tried and true (older) donors that they neglect to also realize the importance of developing a strategy for building effective relationships with future friends, constituents, and advocates.
If you see signs that your organization suffers from “established, older constituent myopia,” you may benefit from some or all of the recommendations below, so as to chart out a more long-term, future-oriented course.
Recommendation One: Change Your Mind!
This may sound simplistic, but many times making this shift is simply a matter of an organization making a conscious decision to change its mind in regard to who is included in their promotional strategy.
Yes, we certainly want to keep connecting and cultivating relationships with those tried and true (mostly older, in most cases) reliable current and recent actual donors. But each time you plan a development campaign to appeal to those loyal ones, if you change your mind, you can use that same opportunity to cultivate long-term new relationships with younger people — younger people who are either theoretical prospects for your cause, or who have already shown interest in your cause even at the edges of your internet presence.
Recommendation Two: Leave No Stone Unturned
Everyone today seems to be leading busier and busier lives. Attention spans — especially for the younger crowd — are statistically shrinking.
The need to have sophisticated systems (technology) that can offer opportunities for multiple touches with prospects and in-the-process-of-being-cultivated constituents is critical to actually being able to connect with people. A mix of both traditional (direct mail, email) and newer digital (social media, landing pages) methods is becoming an absolute essential for a successful strategy. The use of digital images and (brief) video content — with all of its attendant capability of personalizing such things to each “persona types” — fully integrated into cultivation and direct-appeal communications is not only more possible now than ever, but more required for relevance and effectiveness.
Recommendation Three: Think “Advocates” (Evangelists!) More Than “Donors”
This frame of mind can go a long way to helping organizations to add “cultivation of the currently young” to their “fundraising from the tried and true.”
The goal of an annual fund is generally limited to raising money immediately, developing current active donors and keeping them active, as an end in itself. While this is all well and good, it is not necessarily the best big picture end goal. After all, what we really want is sustainability and loyalty, not to mention personal buy-in and involvement.
These are the kinds of things that cement permanent “donor status,” but they achieve this by focusing on nurturing constituents in an “advocate” status. Think of advocates as “evangelists” for your mission. These advocates not only are motivated to support you personally (with donations and perhaps even volunteerism), but they also are motivated to naturally and organically preach your mission within their own personal relationship networks (oftentimes via social media). Once this begins to take place, the viral power of the internet clicks into gear and you will begin to see the fruit of “free promotions” that benefit your organization and mission.
In short, some things are simply not immediate. Some things take time. Time is money, as they say, and in this is precisely the effect of a good strategy for reaching the next generation, “the young.” Thankfully, there are some very exciting newer web-based technologies that can help nonprofits actually implement solid strategies like this. You can learn more detail about those methods and tools on our library of blog topics and by downloading content from our collection of eBooks and slide decks.
The young are constantly entering the world of future constituents, donors, and advocates for nonprofit organizations. The only question is: will any of those currently young folks who could be attracted to your mission be offered an open door through which they can enter into your world and thought leadership so that they have a chance to be part of your future primary sources of support?
That, of course, is up to you…up to the decisions you and I make now!