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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can nonprofits successfully engage the next generation of donors?

Illustration of young people holding umbrellas in a windy storm of paper airplanes.

Illustration generated by DALL·E

The sustainability of the nonprofit sector relies on cultivating the next generation of donors. Younger individuals from the Millennial generation, as well as some from Gen X and Z groups, will soon become the lifeblood of the nonprofit sector – being transitioned nearly $30 trillion over the next 20 years from their predecessors, the Baby Boomers.

In 2015, 87% of total charitable contributions in the U.S. were made by individuals. Furthermore, 43% of those gifts were made by Baby Boomers while only 11% were made by Millennials, according to Fidelity Charitable. It will be up to nonprofits to direct appealing engagement and fundraising strategies towards young individuals to avoid a detrimental depletion of funds over the next several decades.

Millennials (born 1981-1995) engage differently with nonprofits and face more financial constraints than their predecessors. Additionally, in a study conducted by Yordanos Eyoel, Millennials have reportedly low levels of trust in civil society and demand accountability from organizations. They have historically been left out of the conversation, but want to give their time and resources to make the biggest social impact possible. Steven N. Pyser states, “An organization that fails to engage and learn with millennials can be committing a failure in business judgement.” Luckily, there are several ways nonprofits can go about engaging young people, strengthening relationships between them and an organization, and eventually send them through the donor pipeline.



1. Evaluate what the organization is currently doing to engage young people.

Chances are an organization has the resources necessary to take the first step in engaging younger audiences. Begin by asking what part of an organization’s mission is most appealing to younger generations. Then identify already existing efforts to get younger individuals in the door and determine what’s working and what’s driving people away.

2. Embrace diversity internally and externally.

Millennials want to see organizations take initiative in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. They also want to feel welcome when supporting organizations. Leaders must explore internal and external shifts required to diversify an organization based on community needs. For example, leaders might survey who makes up a board of directors or determine if there are groups that would benefit from an organization’s services that currently are not. Embracing diversity has to come from an educated and legitimate place, or people will become disillusioned with the organization.

3. Direct marketing and communication toward younger audiences.

Young people are quickly influencing how organizations communicate and market to all ages, say Feldmann & Yu. To engage with the next generation of donors most effectively, utilize authentic storytelling via social platforms. Messaging should be concise, clear, visual and highlight the impact an individual can make by getting involved. Also, consider asking your younger donors how they wish to be reached.

4. Create interesting volunteer opportunities.

Millennials are drawn to volunteer opportunities that impact the lives of others and support causes they care about, Sheela Nimishakavi states. Find ways to tap into the talents of young people – focus groups, committees, and mentorships are low-cost options. Directly asking how they would like to be involved is an effective way to engage young individuals and make their voices heard.

5. Explore networking.

Young people today are well-connected because of social media and technology. Research conducted by Kathleen Kelly Janus shows 72% of Millennials are interested in connecting with peers through nonprofit work. Seeking out young community leaders to help recruit those in their networks creates new champions for a mission and potential donors in return.

6. Engage in crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding and giving circles are a favored trend amongst Millennials today. Consider exploring partnerships with corporations that employ large numbers of young people, offering exclusive volunteer, event and networking opportunities in return to employees who make a gift. Creating a collective, online fundraising campaign directed towards the next generation of donors is another way for these individuals to participate in making an impact that’s meaningful to them.


Young people are the future of philanthropy and must be adequately engaged to ensure their support. It is important for nonprofit executives to evaluate the ways in which they currently engage young people and what can be done to improve outreach and stewardship. Fundraisers act as bridges between individuals and causes they care about and this is no different for the next generation of donors.

Millennials have the potential to create transformative change by partnering with nonprofits they are passionate about. By involving them in the conversation and embracing what they have to offer in this moment in time, nonprofits will reap the benefits of their support for decades to come.

Emily Santeler is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She is the advancement associate for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An AmeriCorps alum and recent inductee of the Nu Lambda Mu International Honor Society, Ms. Santeler is experienced in working with arts and education nonprofits professionally. A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, Ms. Santeler holds a bachelor’s degree in music and nonprofit arts management from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She plans to continue her work fundraising for the arts – applying concepts learned to efficiently and effectively garner organizational support and positively impact those in her community.


Learn more by enrolling in the Fundraising and Sustainable Financial Management Certificate or the Nonprofit Marketing and Strategic Communications Certificate, both offered online from the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Management Institute.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog