By Derrick Feldmann
“Is there any way to generate loyalty among Millennials?” “Is it possible to engage them?”
I get these questions a lot when I speak about Millennials (age 20-30) and their involvement in causes. What I often find, though, is that the problem is not generating loyalty and engagement but, rather, defining those terms. Many organizations are relying on outdated concepts of loyalty and engagement and, therefore, they are failing to recognize, embrace and encourage the loyalty and engagement that already exists or could easily be generated.
Simply put, loyalty and engagement look different today than just a few years ago. I will use myself to illustrate the point. I consider myself a donor who is loyal to the organizations I support. Why? Because I read their emails, visit their websites, follow them in social media and volunteer when I have the time (wish I could do more). If I had to take a quiz on those organizations’ activities, I think I could at least score a “B.” I feel confident I could tell others about the organizations’ work, giving the “this is what they do” speech and even asking for money if I had to.
Do these organizations think that I am loyal and engaged? Probably not. Why?
All of this activity, knowledge and behind-the-scenes evangelizing does not register with most organizations because they’re too busy organizing and measuring in-person activities. As a result, they don’t acknowledge such participation as a statement of involvement or see the donor from a more comprehensive approach.
This conundrum often is most visible in higher education. Just about every university strategic plan includes a theme for “bringing alumni back to campus.” Unfortunately, this is a driven by a skewed view of alumni engagement, especially for recent graduates. Think for a minute: When was the last time you went back to campus or participated in an alumni event? Been a while? So, does that mean you are not a loyal alumnus? Nope.
What your absence from campus probably means is, in this time-crunched world in which we live, you are reserving in-person engagement for those organizations that you feel must have or truly deserve a portion of your limited time. Still, do you ever follow your university in the news? Ever watch your alma mater’s teams defeat your rivals? Ever visit the school’s website to find alumni updates? You seem pretty loyal and engaged to me. Nonetheless, until you participate in person, your alma mater might consider you unengaged and uncaring.
How can organizations address this kind of loyalty and engagement? By changing their culture to reflect the differences of involvement, especially with Millennials. While your organization might see involvement, loyalty and engagement reflected by in-person activities, the Millennials see it differently. This generation gets informed, involved and engaged without being onsite. Millennials spread messages through technology. They text, call and email friends to tell them of your work. They sit in coffee shops with friends and family members and talk all night about you.
So: Still think they lack loyalty?
Does all of this mean I am advocating for a technology-based approach? No. I am advocating for a new form of engagement and loyalty. I am advocating for new expectations, benchmarks and goals.
How can you embrace these new approaches? Take three simple steps:
Incorporate New Benchmarks for Engagement
For fundraisers, it’s time to incorporate new benchmarks for involvement. Move beyond conversion and transaction and incorporate engagement benchmarks into all reports. This includes “opens,” “clicks” and other measurements of online content viewing. It also incorporates new elements of action steps: Measure how many people respond to questions, polls, queries and call-to-action buttons in content. Then look at how many convert to higher engagement. Using this graduated scale of involvement, challenge yourself to increase each statistic.
Create a Group of Online Advocates
Develop a group of online advocates to spread messages, write content and develop online conversations for you. Stop thinking that you need to generate this in-house. Become a facilitator of the conversation rather than the creator. Create this team to write about your work in various styles for different audiences. Your scribes could write about recent happenings, new ways to think about supporting the organization, and how you tackle issues. Let them become your personal journalists. Help them create a movement for you rather than creating one for yourself.
Reward Loyalty Differently
Track the people who make at least one or more online mentions of your organization and recognize them on your site. Create new online opportunities to share with people in the community who spread your work. Provide unique opportunities for individuals who talk about you to experience things before others. Give sneak peeks of new initiatives, provide information to your loyal evangelists, and create a unique community site for these loyalists to receive updates and other forms of impact from donor support.
So, with these steps, can you create loyalty? Absolutely … but, at the same time, you’ll need to refine how you measure loyalty and engagement. Stop rewarding only offline activity, and begin to incorporate all forms of involvement. It could be the solution to how your organization grows its donors for the long term.