Social Media + Donor Age = ???

By Justin Goettsch @jgoettsch3

A huge part of being successful on social media is identifying key audiences and targeting your content specifically towards those demographics.  Content that is specific to different demographics should be addressed on platforms that tend to attract the audience you are targeting.  Finding that intersection is how organizations can maximize their social media efforts.  This is easier said than done for nonprofits.

The audience for nonprofits isn’t exclusively donors.  Some content might be designed to spread awareness, some might be organizational updates, but it is rare for a nonprofit to not find an angle to encourage donations.  So while donors aren’t the exclusive target audience for nonprofits, they are generally the most important.

While there are many different types and reasons for donating, the first question a fundraiser has to ask is, does this group of potential donors have money?  It is obviously not prudent to spend organizational resources on fundraising practices that will have a low return on investment.

The problem nonprofits are having is that their donors are old.  People that are older have more money than do younger people.  Perhaps they have been successful professionally.  Perhaps their successful parents have passed away and they have therefore come into chunk of change they didn’t have before.  Perhaps they won the lottery.  The people who are more likely to have these qualities (especially the lottery) tend to be older.

The obvious problem is that social media, in general, skews younger.  Facebook is the best example of a platform that hits the baby boomers, the younger end of median donors, and engages them in a way that keeps the them in the know about organizational updates.  Is it worth the effort for a nonprofit to spend a lot of resources on other platforms that in most cases, won’t yield strong donations?

My answer is yes.  Firstly, nonprofits don’t have the luxury of being able to ignore groups of people.  Intentionally excluding a group of people from the conversation is unwise in general.  Secondly, There are young people who are socially minded and interested in giving, even if it might not match what the more mature donors are contributing.  Lots of small donations matter as Crowdfunding has championed.

The biggest reason for continued emphasis in social media for nonprofits is because while many followers might not be capable of giving now, they are the future donors.  If a nonprofit has spent years building a relationship with this group of donors, when charitable practices become a focus for these individuals, those nonprofits will be the first on the list to receive donations.

It may seem like a lot of effort for little return right now, nonprofits need to stay in the fray and continue pushing social media efforts.

This Article Has 10 Comments
  1. Cyrus Heffernan says:

    You make a really good argument for nonprofits paying attention to the younger demographic. I like the point about crowdsourcing/microdonations – I hadn’t considered that, but it has been very successful in certain campaigns. And building relationships for the future is always important, though one could question how important exactly, as it could be decades before these young people have any real donation capability.

  2. Lauren Sokol says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for an interesting post. Nonprofits are definitely difficult to execute properly on social media, but I do think a lot of organizations are doing it well. The American Cancer Society, for instance, posts a lot of great content without constantly pushing asks out to people and the Alzheimer’s Association also does a lot of great informational posts to raise awareness for the disease. I think in addition to thinking about the age and financial health of the audience that a nonprofit is going after you have to try to post content that will inspire people who have a reason to care about the nonprofit’s cause or mission enough to spread the word or take action in their community. You can create calls to action for a one time donation through the page, but you should also be posting calls to action of non-monetary types that will inspire others to get out in their community and call others to donate. The best example I can think of is when nonprofits began using teams for marathons – the amount of people that post on social media requesting donations to their specific pages leading up to their race day has skyrocketed, and I think similar strategies could be used so it is a person to person ask, instead of an organization to person ask.

  3. Bailey Rogers says:

    Justin,

    I think you make a very interesting point! Nonprofits are tricky because the main goal is to fundraise, and the people who will help achieve that have money, meaning their older. People are becoming more and more tech savvy, especially as the younger generations become older, and companies are being forced to adapt to the new tech age. Although it is true that older generations and social media don’t mix as well, I think it would still be worth it for nonprofits to invest in social media because the younger generations that do understand and follow social media can tell their parents/grandparents/professors who would be able to donate.

  4. Sean Willcox says:

    Justin,

    Your point that the biggest reason nonprofits should engage with the younger generation through social media is because they are the donors of tomorrow is incredibly astute. While younger people might not have the capacity to give today, they will someday soon. If you can establish a relationship with them now through social media than you might not have to put as much work into developing them as donors when they get older. Of course, the biggest limiting factor at nonprofits is always resources, both money and time, and it could be hard to justify allocating resources to manage social media accounts whose real impact isn’t felt for 10 to 20 years. However, as you said, nonprofits can’t afford to ignore any group of potential donors and when todays young people get older social media will be their preferred point of contact.

  5. Olivia Determan says:

    Wow Justin, It’s almost as if you work for a nonprofit 😉
    Great insight on who to target and why you should. You made a great point that nonprofits can’t afford to leave anyone behind, as anyone who is willing to give should feel important and thanked. The donors of tomorrow need to feel included and taken seriously.

  6. Jeff Lockie says:

    Great article, and agree with all of your points. Non profits cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and watch all the benefits of social media go by. While yes, it takes time to operate a highly effective social media account, it is still largely free!!! In respects to other outlets that claim to reach this younger demographic, social media has proven itself as a direct access point to touch younger individuals at an affordable price tag.

    What I loved most is that just because an organization is labeled as a ‘non profit’, it doesn’t mean they can’t engage the world in the same creative, insightful, and meaningful way ‘for private’ companies do. Non profits have a mission to raise funds to, and should adopt certain similar strategies. Not to mention, the story’s and powerful message behind most non profits can easily be translated into creating several highly impactful social media campaigns that can go “viral” and reach the masses.

  7. Adam Kantor says:

    I would agree with you when you said “There are young people who are socially minded and interested in giving,” but I think a lot of millennials are skeptical of non profit organization given the litany of them that turn out to be dishonest. The Cancer Fund of America raised $75.4 Million as of January of 2017, and only 1% of that was put toward actual cancer research and treatment. Millennials tend to be more willing to donate their time or expertise than money.

  8. Amanda Lam says:

    Great post! I never thought about how nonprofit social media still targets a younger demographic. I think that social media is a great way to keep millennials informed and encouraged them to be supporters of the organization, but we can also use them to influence others to rally behind a cause.

  9. Emily Hamann says:

    Justin,

    This post really hit home for me. I have a strong passion for helping people and follow a lot of nonprofits on my various forms of social media, I would also like to work for one someday. Having these influences in my feed is difficult at times; I often see ads just blatantly asking for money for their cause. Although it seems desperate, I think this can be successful in the long run. Like you mentioned, there are many socially minded individuals in our generation and even in younger generations. So keeping these topics on peoples minds (through repeated mentions in their feed) does eventually lead to changes in buying practices, I have experienced this firsthand. Ever since I began following Peeta on Facebook I have become hyper aware of many areas of the food industry I was unaware of previously and have changed my habits.
    I also really like your point about crowd funding. Whenever I make a contribution on that it does not feel like a donation, but more like a purchase so I feel like I am almost being rewarded. Because of the fact that it connects us to a large group of likeminded individuals, it is immensely more satisfying than writing a check. I believe that this is how it has become such a successful funding platform, it constantly reinforces community engagement.

  10. Talia Smith says:

    Hi Justin,

    I am reading this after talking to my sister back in New Jersey. In the background of the phone call, I could hear my mom try to explain/yell the concept of Facebook to my hard-of-hearing 94-year-old grandma. Her response: “Why would anyone want to use something like that anyway?” There’s zero chance a non-profit will reach my grandma via social media. Interesting to think though that we will someday be the wealthy, old and social media savvy seniors who are sought after by non-profits.

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