Advancement Blog

How to transform millennials into monthly donors

by Jeff Martin

Millennials. There are many claims about this generation—everything from killing the movie-going experience to spending all of their retirement money on avocado toast.

Whether these claims are true or not, one thing is clear: it's becoming harder and harder to obtain and continue to count on millennial alumni giving.

The challenge: Turning intentions into gifts

While 73% of millennial donors intend to give to their alma mater in the future, actual giving from millennial donors remains inconsistent. Millennials engage with their alma mater’s fundraising appeals at a similar rate as their older counterparts—but 39% of young donors fail to renew gifts each year.

Millennial donor statistics, advancement strategy

It’s clear young alumni are consumed by the attention economy. Advancement officers must make giving easier through targeted, monthly campaigns that speak to millennial interests (e.g., convenience, giving to a cause) and giving that is automatically renewed to tackle conversion problems.

Eager and engaged, yet unpredictable, millennial donors create a need for new approach to sustained giving. Our research has revealed several schools who approach sustained millennial giving in new and successful ways.

Frame monthly giving for the millennial mindset

At William & Mary, advancement officials launched a monthly giving campaign specifically for young alumni. The campaign emphasized how monthly giving aligns with millennial’s passions and giving preferences. They highlighted the convenience of monthly giving and underscored that monthly giving is the best way for small-gift donors to collectively create a big impact.

Through these efforts, William & Mary advancement staff increased young alumni donors by 288% from 2014 to 2016. Further, the monthly donor renewal rate averaged 86%, resulting in $468,000 in annual recurring donor revenue. Young alumni recurring donors at William & Mary surpassed their one-time-giving counterparts by the end of the program.

How UT turned a senior class gift into lifelong giving

Advancement staff at the University of Tennessee sought to solve the retention gap in their young alumni giving. Although their senior gift program was extremely successful, very few seniors returned to give after their first year as alumni. By simply adding a "recurring gift" option to their senior gift form, advancement officers were able to increase young alumni giving retention. Fundraisers approach seniors at events and in email solicitations prompting them to join the program and fill out the form.

In 2016, 10% of graduating senior donors opted to sign the recurring gift pledge. As a result, the overall retention rate for the graduating class of 2017 is predicted to increase 7% over the previous year's retention rate.

Four frequent challenges to recurring giving

Although they can be extremely successful, monthly and recurring giving campaigns do not come without challenges of their own. Below are the most common roadblocks (and solutions) for a successful campaign:

  1. Credit card expirations can leave the advancement office with inaccurate payment information, resulting in lost gifts.
    Solution: Ensure proactive outreach to donors with upcoming expiration for pre-renewal cultivation.

  2. Fraud cases can lead to unexpected credit card cancellations.
    Solution: Formalize plans for multiple renewal reminders through diverse channels.

  3. Donors may become comfortable with a low level of giving.
    Solution: Solicit for larger monthly gifts on donation anniversaries.

  4. The gift system may be unequipped to handle perpetual, recurring payments.
    Solution: Set the default pledge length to exceed credit card expiration date as a technical workaround.

By preventing or solving these common pitfalls, advancement offices can use monthly and recurring giving to not only target—but predict (and keep!) the unpredictable millennial giver.

Engage diverse alumni and expand your donor pool

Most advancement offices still target a primarily white, male donor base. Download this complimentary toolkit for three strategies to build relations with diverse alumni and grow your pipeline. Grow your diverse donor pool.


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