Things That Fundraising Managers Need To Keep In Mind When Working With Millennials

Sections of this topic

    1. A Love Note From Your Millennials

    Dear Boss,

    The Internet, The Internet, The Internet.

    Love, Your Millennial.

    I had a boss who would yell questions at us from his desk chair. Didn’t matter what people were doing, or who was around. If he wanted to know something, he’d just blurt it out and expect an answer.

    Now, we, his mostly-Millennial staff, weren’t really bothered by his gregarious personality. But his questions tended to be the type that could be easily answered with a quick internet search. This we found a little annoying.

    So, our running-joke response became, “Did you Google it?” Which, of course, he found annoying.

    As the first generation to grow up online, Millennials have an internet-first mindset when it comes to communication, problem solving, shopping, you name it. Now, contrast that with the network-first mindset (“Who do I know who can help?”) of many in older generations. These different approaches are a recipe for tension in the workplace.

    Well, the internet isn’t going away. As it evolves, so must the business of fundraising. Good leaders will help their organizations adapt and move forward. They will align strategy with mission and talent with strategy. And, given that roughly 40% of their talent will be Millennials, they’ll need to leverage the techy know-how of younger staffers and position them for growth and success.

    On the other hand, there are things the internet has not, and never will change about fundraising. A person’s motivation for making a major gift is a great example.

    Philanthropy is very personal and very emotional. And at its best and most impactful, it is worked out within the context of relationships: donor to organization, donor to executive director, to volunteer, to development officer, etc.

    Building trust relationships takes face-to-face interaction, shared experience, and time. Pretty un-digital stuff. And the best fundraisers I know have been doing it for decades. Millennials must be prepared to learn a lot from these folks.

    2. A Few Things That Fundraising Managers Need to Keep in Mind When Working With Tech-Savvy Millennials:

    a. Stay open to the possibility that technology has enabled a better way to do something.

    Technology has completely changed the game in some areas of fundraising. New research tools have made it easier to find information about prospects; there are more ways to communicate with donors, including texting and social media; and there are new ways to solicit and receive gifts … internet crowd-funding is just one example.

    Don’t ignore these trends. The Millennials on your staff certainly aren’t. Why not task one or two of them with investigating and developing recommendations for you?

    b. Stay open to learning about that better way from someone younger than you.

    According to MTV’s No Collar Worker study on Millennials in the workplace, 76% believe “my boss could learn a lot from me,” and 65% say they could be a technology mentor for older workers.

    Perhaps this is nothing more than hubris, but keep in mind that Millennials tend to pair technological know-how with an entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t want to work for organizations stuck in the past and we love the idea of being part of new, innovative solutions.

    Engaging Millennial employees in the process (yes, even at the strategic level) will keep them energized. And it will prevent the best ones from jumping ship as soon as the next opportunity comes along.

    c. Yes, they’re checking Facebook at work. And it’s not the end of the world.

    Millennials are indeed chronic multi-taskers. In an always- connected world, it’s not uncommon for us to text with friends, check our Facebook feeds, and stay on top of the day’s news, all during business hours.

    Yes, there are potential productivity issues here (more on this below), but my advice for you is to not go there. If you’re worriedabout how your Millennial employees are spending every minute of their time between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, then you’ve got bigger problems.

    When evaluating performance, focus on real, measurable outcomes that matter: dollars raised, prospect visits per month, etc. If your employees are making it happen in these areas, who cares if they’re multi-tasking during business hours? Stay focused on the main objectives and your employees will too.

    Millennials, be sure to watch for my posting on October 15,
    That one is for you!

    Next week, watch for Bill Huddleston’s second piece on
    The Use of Checklists to Ensure Better Outcomes


    K. Michael Johnson is a major gift officer at a large research university
    and the founder of,
    where he discusses the inner game of deeper relationships and bigger asks.
    You can contact him at K. Michael Johnson.
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