A New Pool of Nonprofit Givers: Engaging a Growing Gen Z Audience

A group of generation z teenagers

Members of Generation Z, born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, may not necessarily have the most significant financial power yet. However, if they’re not on your nonprofit’s radar, you’ll miss out in the long run.

Raised in an economically and socially turbulent time, this generation is rising with an impressive drive for change. Their determination to make a hands-on impact and amplify causes through online platforms will allow them to grow into a significant force for giving over the next decade.

Your nonprofit has interacted with Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials for a while now, but your engagement methods need to be adjusted for the rising generation.

To help you craft an intentional plan for engagement and communicate in a way that makes your nonprofit’s brand recognizable to younger audiences, this guide will outline the following ideas:

  • Understanding Generation Z
  • Meeting them where they are
  • Telling your story but keeping it concise
  • Strengthening their perceptions of your nonprofit’s brand
  • Building a foundation for the future

The past methods you’ve used to engage supporters will be less effective with Generation Z as their motivations evolve.

Crafting a strategy from scratch is a significant undertaking for any team. If you feel overwhelmed reading this guide, consider bringing on a fundraising consultant to guide your efforts. Outside help can bring new insights that will allow you to develop a more comprehensive strategy.

Understanding Generation Z

Gen Z is usually defined as those born anytime from 1997 to 2012. The oldest of the generation have been in the workforce for a few years, while the youngest are finishing elementary school.

Gen Z has grown up amid an unusual amount of social, economic, and political turbulence, which they are highly aware of due to their digital native status. Like Millennials, many lived through the events following 9/11 and remember the economic collapse of 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted critical years in Gen Z’s secondary and higher education and some members’ entrance into the workforce, adding to the instability of their life experiences.

These driven youth make up over 27% of the world population, accounting for over 2 billion people. Engaging this generation now can lay the groundwork for years of energetic engagement in the future, but tread carefully to ensure you don’t accidentally deter them in the process. They’re inspired to make a change but tend to be financially cautious.

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Meet them where they are

Engaging Gen Z isn’t an overnight practice. Begin by outlining a strategy spanning the next 1-3 years, describing the specific outreach and stewardship strategies you’ll use to engage this generation as they grow up.

Your Gen Z engagement strategy should include a multi-channel approach primarily focused on the digital methods of engaging supporters available to you. This generation uses digital engagement outlets like never before. The internet is their primary method for connecting with friends near and far, learning about the world, and spreading the word about causes important to them.

Make sure your Gen Z engagement strategy includes these channels:

  • Your nonprofit’s website is an essential tool for educating supporters. If they find you on social media or by word of mouth, Gen Z will soon go to your website to learn about your nonprofit’s mission. Ensure the site is informational, visually attractive, and includes links to your social networks for younger supporters to follow.
  • Your social media profiles. Use the top social networks—Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—to spread your message, and maybe experiment with “younger” social media sites like Snapchat and TikTok. Above all, use social media as a tool for genuine engagement. Gen Z supporters want a two-way conversation, which means paying attention to comments/tags and responding accordingly.

These digital strategies will help you engage Gen Z. Email marketing is still an essential tool for nonprofits, although it appeals a bit more to older generations. Linking to your website and social media in your emails and adding images and videos will help you optimize your nonprofit’s email marketing for supporters of all ages.

Tell your story, but keep it concise

For many members of Gen-Z, the primary goal of their nonprofit involvement is to make a positive, tangible impact on society. So, keeping your nonprofit’s mission front and center in your digital marketing materials will engage this audience by showing them they can create real change by supporting you.

The easiest way to make this point is to tell the story of your nonprofit, specifically the work you do and how supporters of your nonprofit enable that work to happen. Gen Z won’t respond well to direct gift solicitation communications, so you’ll want to replace those with authentic storytelling that engages your readers.

Keep in mind that Gen Z has a shorter attention span than the generations before. Also, as a digital-native generation, they’ve been battered by so much online content and advertising that they’ve honed their ability to quickly screen valuable messages from irrelevant, rambling, or inauthentic ones.

To this end, write for your website and social media so that supporters can gather all the essential information about your organization in a quick scan, just in case that’s all they do. Place the most important text at the top of a webpage and add additional details toward the end. As you write, ensure that your website’s CMS allows you to include images and manipulate page design to make your stories clear and engaging for your audience.

Strengthen their perceptions of your nonprofit’s brand

Another crucial focus for Generation Z is branding, especially brand loyalty. Since they spend lots of time online, they come across information on thousands of brands, meaning that each brand needs to communicate consistently and transparently to attract Gen-Z supporters. This includes building a strong nonprofit search engine optimization strategy.

Gen Z’s general desire for social change makes branding even more complicated. A brand can no longer promote itself as a leader in its industry. While cost and quality remain important for brand awareness, Gen Z will want to engage with and become loyal followers of brands that align with their values and positively impact the world.

In some ways, nonprofit organizations have an advantage in Gen-Z brand loyalty because your entire purpose is to create positive change. But branding is still vital for nonprofits to get noticed and prompt engagement.

To strengthen your nonprofit’s branding, follow these three steps:

  1. Develop a consistent message. The most prominent parts of your brand are your organization’s name, logo, and mission statement. Put all three at the top of your website’s homepage to help Gen-Z supporters immediately associate them with your organization. And be sure to optimize your nonprofit donation pages. Similarly, on social media, use your organization’s name as the handle, your logo as the profile picture, and your mission statement as the bio for immediate recognition. After all, Gen Z is part of the new social media generation.
  2. Make your communications immediately recognizable. Visual elements of messaging are absorbed more quickly than text. So, keep your visual branding consistent, such as using your organization’s colors and fonts across your website and in your social media posts.
  3. Be transparent with your supporters. Members of Gen Z particularly value honesty and integrity among the brands they support. To this end, be transparent about how your organization uses its funding—specify where your donations go and make the data on your expenses widely available.

Additionally, communicating memorable messages that audiences on each platform you use can connect with and take action on will strengthen your brand.

Build a foundation for the future

Remember that while this generation may not be major givers now, they are on track to have a significant impact later. The efforts you make now to build a relationship with Gen Z are stewarding your nonprofit’s critical supporters of the future.

This is to say that while you might be tempted to focus all of your efforts on soliciting major gifts from those that can give them now, don’t neglect Gen Z just because many of them don’t have that financial capacity just yet. If you build relationships for the future instead of only pushing your current campaign message, you’ll grow your fundraising capacity for years to come.

Give these young supporters a voice at the table now. That may mean inviting them to volunteer with your organization, involving them in local nonprofit events, or even responding to and amplifying their voices when they contribute to your cause’s overall narrative. Show these young supporters that you value their time, money, and engagement contributions. If you do, they’ll be more likely to follow your work as their capacity to give grows.

Although Gen Z may not be your primary financial givers, engaging the generation can potentially increase your fundraising capacity massively in the future. But creating interest and garnering support from this generation requires slightly different engagement techniques than those you may have used before.

Hiring a nonprofit fundraising consultant can be helpful if building this multi-dimensional engagement strategy becomes overwhelming. But the five tips above should get your organization off to a great start.

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