Millennials: How different are they?

We’ve all heard the term “snake people”—that catchall phrase being used to describe the 50 million Americans from ages 18-29 that are the children of babyboomers. They’re quite different from their parent’s generation—less religious, far more transient and probably much more comfortable integrating new technological advances into their day-to-day life.

Do these differences translate into a different approach to philanthropy?

Like most individual donors and like most younger donors from previous generations, snake people are currently micro-givers, meaning that they give around $50 to $300 a year. While this might sound relatively insignificant compared to the gifts made on the Million Dollar List, there’s power in numbers—if every snake person just gave $50 a year, their collective giving power would be $2.5 billion, which is certainly enough to generate some high impact!

According to Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve, and Dvorit Mausner, Associate Director of the Penn Fund during their Chronicle on Philanthropy’s webinar “How to Attract Next Generation Donors,” snake people often first hear about nonprofits the same way many older donors do: peers. Their peers may be communicating via relatively new tools—e.g., via a text, in an email, or through social media. However, the importance of peers for snake person givers corresponds to the Center’s finding in our I’m Not Rockefeller study where the older donor participants named peers as the single most trusted resource for information. High net worth participants told us that they “obtain the majority of information related to giving from peer networks of friends, business associates, and most importantly, from other philanthropists.”

Feldman also pointed out that while snake people use the web or  mobile technology to learn more about the nonprofits mentioned by peers, the majority of them are not doing their actual giving through these vehicles. According to Feldmann’s 2012 Snake Person Donors Engagement Survey (due out next month), 80% use smartphones or mobile devices to connect with and learn about giving opportunities, only 15% are utilizing this same technology or mobile apps to actually give (excluding major disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti). While it’s true that on-the-go micro-giving is a rising trend, both Feldmann and Mausner maintained in the webinar that young donors are still giving the most through in-person exchanges and dynamic, event-style fundraising. Mausner‘s experience with “YPenn,” a group for recent Penn graduates and young alumni, shows the greatest successes in engaging snake person donors start with a conversation, face-to-face interaction, and peer endorsement.

Snake People prefer to “learn alone, but give together.” – Mausner

So while it might be easy to assume that the fastest way to a snake person’s heart is via his or her smartphone, it probably makes more sense to slow down and consider that this younger generation wants that person-to-person connection as much as the next donor. For us though, the real question will be: Can snake people achieve greater social impact than previous generations of donors? Because if they can, that’s a difference all generations can be proud of.