When I first thought of this blog, I thought it would be great to have guest posts from those interested in the topic. Naturally, I've been telling everyone I know about my blog, and last week I told my friend Deborah Brody all about it and asked if she'd write a guest blog-main topic: "do you think non-profits should care about reaching out to and cultivating Gen Yers and if so, why?"
Put your Eyes on the Ys
Some businesses believe in marketing throughout the entire life cycle. They start building brand awareness from infancy and continue through old age. In fact, some advertisers have been criticized for marketing to children (Camel comes to mind). Regardless, these businesses are on to something—they know that brand loyalty can last a lifetime. Positive impressions built in childhood stay with you the rest of your life. Think about your childhood brands—perhaps Kool Aid or Jell-O—how likely is it that you buy those brands now or would buy them for your children? At a minimum, you may think of them with nostalgia and have positive associations for them.
So why aren’t more nonprofit organizations marketing to the younger generations? These organizations may believe that younger people do not give enough or at all to make them “worthwhile” prospects. Or they believe that all marketing should be aimed at established donors or to the accepted profile of potential donors (45+, high household income, etc). This outmoded thinking is just plain wrong. Why? Because it is shortsighted to ignore a large portion of the population who will eventually age and become established.
Nowhere is the effect of Generation Y being felt more than in this year’s presidential campaign. Barack Obama has been singularly effective in attracting younger voters. But, in fact, all presidential candidates have recognized that these younger voters are going to be crucial in 2008. They have campaigned on college campuses, built Facebook pages and otherwise tried to make sure that GenY votes their way. For many GenYers, this will be their first election. Getting involved now, and feeling that they can make a difference, may also make them involved citizens for life.
Even so, various nonprofit organizations have consciously chosen to ignore GenY. Perhaps it is a symptom of doing business as usual, and of not wanting to rock the boat. Or perhaps (and more likely) it is fear of the unknown. Marketing and communications people at nonprofits are often older (certainly not GenY). They are suspicious of younger people and not always comfortable with the social media that is so effective with this demographic.
The fact that someone can only give a little or not at all today, does not mean that he or she won’t give in the future. The bottom line is that for an organization to thrive it must survive into the future…and the future is GenY. In marketing terms, nonprofits need to build brand loyalty now. Positive connotation for your brand (organization) will ensure giving when the time comes.
Marketing to GenY is not as simple as marketing to earlier generations. A piece of direct mail or a well-placed ad is not enough to reach this target audience. GenY has grown up entirely in an electronic media age. They have never known a world without Internet or cell phones. To reach GenY, you have to move beyond traditional media to embrace Internet and social media.
Although effective marketing defines and targets a specific audience, there is no rule that says you cannot target multiple audiences (that is, you can employ a multi-layered approach to marketing). You can allocate different portions of your budget to different audiences. So you can continue to send solicitations to former donors while pursuing GenY.
Creating a Facebook page or a blog for your nonprofit organization is not enough, however. Nonprofits must create a strategy to reach GenY, recognizing that bringing them into the fold is a long-term process. Right now, GenY may not be as financially profitable as an older demographic. Also recognize that this demographic is looking for a different pathway for involvement. They may be more likely to volunteer but less likely to write a check. And finally, reaching GenY will take a different type of media.
Continuing to ignore GenY or discount their importance will only hurt nonprofit organizations in the future.