FYI Blog

Dispelling Myths: “We need to target millennials”


For the sixth piece in our Dispelling Myths series, we’ll tackle the directive often heard from board members, senior leadership, existing and new staff — all of whom are legitimately seeking ways to involve younger donors: “We need to target millennials.”

While there are occasionally exceptions to the rule, take a look at your file’s data and you’ll most likely see this is the case:  younger donors (under 40) just don’t respond well to direct marketing. Typically, they need to “grow” into being a donor — and that usually happens when they have disposable income a few years (or decades!) from now.

Avalon’s analytics allow us to dig deeply into the ROI of various segments of our clients’ donor files. Time and again, we see that the long-term value of millennials does not compare to that of older donors — because the upfront cost to engage them is too high to be offset by future revenue.

We recommend running your own numbers to see if you too can dispel this myth. Check your appeal and acquisition performance by age, acquisition universe by age, and file composition by age.

We find that it is most effective to target direct-marketing-responsive donors (regardless of age) and fully optimize programs to our most valuable donors (acquisition, sustainers, planned giving). Beyond that, you should absolutely work to build relationships with young activists — moving them along a continuum of engagement — but know that it might not lead to a financial return anytime soon.

Another reason not to target millennials for direct marketing fundraising is that younger donors under 40 do not typically perform well. We’ve seen this clearly by using Avalon’s state-of-the-art suite of analytical tools, including age overlays, to analyze the productivity of various donor segments in appeals and acquisition—for our clients, this exercise illustrates the tremendous impact of older donors, and how younger donors fall short.

The fact is, the universe of available younger donors is quite small. This is easy to confirm — just analyze a sample acquisition mail file showing quantity mailed by age. You’ll find that the majority of the people on the file are over 50 years old.

We’re not suggesting that you give up on younger supporters—just don’t count on them for financial help yet. They need to build their careers, and their corresponding income, and develop into charitable givers. For now, they’ll sign up to walk for a cause or repost your petition on Facebook or take other worthwhile actions—building their involvement that will, we hope, eventually lead to charitable giving.