Online giving seen as a way to engage young, cross-platform technology users

GiveCorps CEO Jamie McDonald (© Joe Rubino)
GiveCorps CEO Jamie McDonald (© Joe Rubino)

By Jill Warren Lucas

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There’s a new and fast-growing demographic that software developers are targeting for nonprofit clients and donors. You’ve no doubt seen its members weaving through traffic on busy sidewalks or conducting business from carpool lanes and coffee shops. These mostly young, plugged-in multitaskers talk earnestly to seemingly no one in particular as they tap out messages on their smartphones or tablets – all the while keeping friends and family informed via social networks.

“They want to know, first and foremost, that their dollars will have impact,” says Jamie McDonald, CEO of the Baltimore-based “The idea of peer giving goes beyond supporting causes their friends support. They want to know other people like them are giving.”You might even be one of these people, who represent both a challenge and an opportunity to companies that aim to distract Millennials just long enough to engage their minds (and wallets) with a compelling philanthropic message.

McDonald defines “young givers” as typically about 10 years out of college and under age 40. This segment has grown up with technology and understands that persuasively sharing their actions via social networks can leverage small-dollar gifts and help under-resourced agencies better serve constituents.

But since this group is bombarded with messaging, they need to be strategically reminded and courted. McDonald says there is a delicate balancing act between fostering participation and becoming an irritant.

“Younger donor cultivation is a long-term strategy,” McDonald says. “If organizations want to see this audience grow into the future major donor base that it has the potential to become, they have to think about how to communicate, engage and inspire them now.”

Merely posting a donation form on a charitable group’s website, or sending letters, no longer brings in the dollars it once did. So-called “responsive technology,” which pings online followers with self-selected topic opportunities, makes it possible to quickly convert a philanthropic impulse into a cash donation.

Many companies are getting into the game with customizable giving platforms that aim to transform former transactional donors – often one-time contributors who do not build relationships with recipients – into repeat givers who seek ways to connect with causes they hold dear.

“We’re trying to create the sense that giving through a platform like ours is about opportunity, not guilt,” McDonald says. “It’s a great interface to make it easy for people to find other projects that are meaningful to them.”

According to Mashable, some of the most successful social-good networks are CausesCrowdriseDonateNow/NetworkforGoodDonorsChoose and FirstGiving. Like most of these, GiveCorps charges nonprofits a fee for using its resources to raise tax-exempt donations through basic and customized web pages. It likewise creates opportunities to build a charity’s brand awareness through social marketing. A benefit to donors is the ability to keep track of their giving and print receipts; with GiveCorps, they also can earn discounts through local merchants.

Such platforms provide nonprofits the opportunity to share stories about how they serve and improve their communities, as well as specifics on how donated money will be used. For example, at the Jump Start project of the Jobs Opportunity Task Force, donors can opt to give $12 to provide a future carpenter a round shank screwdriver or $200 to provide a graduate of the construction training program a fully-stocked tool belt. At the Maryland SPCA, $33 will pay for pet adoption costs while $320 will cover surgical supplies for its spay/neuter program.

Others define suggested giving amounts in the context of splurge:  the cost of a cappuccino, a movie ticket or dinner at a favorite restaurant – all things that might be given up without hardship, but the value of which could make a difference to a struggling nonprofit.

There’s an instinct for people to want to push campaigns over the finish line, and they’re usually willing to make some small sacrifice to make it happen,” McDonald says. “We try to make that as easy as possible.”

Establishing an ongoing relationship between the donor and donee is an experience that McDonald believes is necessary to engage Millennials in a lifetime of meaningful philanthropy.

“That’s one of the key preferential differences with young people,” she says. “They want to feel that they’re having an impact, even with small dollars, to be part of many solutions.”

McDonald says there is a misperception that this is not a generous group, but data shows that 75 percent of Millennials already give money to help nonprofits meet their missions.

“They are the most generous generation, per capita, of any generation,” she states. “The total dollars they are giving is smaller, but they recognize that it’s about more than posting a tweet or volunteering. They get that giving money is what helps organizations grow.”

GiveCorps’ motto is “you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist.”  The company notes that Michael Bloomberg – the entrepreneur, New York City major and issues advocate – started his philanthropic career with a $5 gift in 1965 to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. With a recent record-setting $350 million gift, his donation total currently stands at $1.1 billion.

“Starting out by giving small is a big part of our focus. It’s important to treat everyone equally and respect everyone’s passion and budget. After all,” McDonald says, “you never know who might be your Michael Bloomberg.”

Photo at top: GiveCorps donors choose to make connections with nonprofits that share their stories, such as the construction training program offered by the Job Opportunities Task Force of Baltimore. 

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