Fund Raising

Young Donors Are Turned Off by Out-of-Date, Uninformative Web Sites

July 18, 2013

Colleges and other nonprofit organizations that want to persuade people in their 20s and early 30s to give and volunteer don't have much of a chance if they're not updating their Web sites frequently and including compelling details about their causes and the people they serve, according to a survey released on Thursday.

Three out of four donors born from 1979 to 1994—a generation often referred to as Millennials—said they were turned off when a nonprofit group's Web site had not been updated recently. Six in 10 said they wanted nonprofits to share stories about successful projects and programs, and appreciated information about an organization's mission and the people it serves.

What especially bothers them: Too much information about the group itself, said Derrick Feldmann, chief executive of Achieve, a consulting company that advises nonprofits on how to work with young donors. The company conducted the survey of 2,600 young donors to learn about their attitudes. Then, to find out what matters most to those givers, the company asked 100 of them to view and rate Web sites of charitable organizations.

Monthly Giving Appeals

Most of the young people surveyed had given only small amounts to nonprofits—23 percent said their largest gift was $51 to $100, while 40 percent said their biggest donation was $1 to $50.

But young donors are open to making small donations more frequently. About 52 percent said they would be interested in making monthly gifts to an organization. Seventy percent said they would be willing to raise money for an organization they cared about, and 64 percent said they had raised money in a walk or race.

"It's probably the most common philanthropic experience Millennials have," said Mr. Feldmann.

The donors also prefer to give online, with 84 percent saying they would want to give through a Web site. The second-most-popular way to give, with only 48 percent of donors, is to make a donation in person at an event.

Showing Action

To help nonprofit organizations learn more about how young donors view their sites, Achieve's researchers videotaped young people as they looked at nonprofit Web sites and were asked whether the sites had motivated them to give and volunteer.

In the videos, many of the participants called attention to Web sites that failed to provide enough information about the organization and its results.

When one participant viewed a Web page that describes the mission of Repair the World, a Jewish volunteer group, he said he didn't feel motivated to act. The text-only page and broad descriptions left him wondering what his time and money would do.

"I feel like joining an organization like this rests on a lot of emotional responses," the participant said. "I'd like to see actual pictures that detail the effects of my contributing to the cause."

Among the survey's other findings:

  • More than eight in 10 young donors have smartphones and use them to read e-mails and articles from nonprofit groups. Three-quarters of those donors said their biggest frustration when interacting with a nonprofit on a mobile device was finding that its site was designed for a desktop, not for easy access on the go.
  • More than 65 percent of young donors receive e-mail or newsletters from as many as five organizations, and 49 percent said they follow up to five organizations on social networks.
  • Three in four young donors have liked, retweeted, or shared nonprofit content on social networks.
  • Almost five in 10 volunteers said they were frustrated that they had been asked to attend long training sessions when they thought their time could have been better used by learning procedures online and spending more time doing meaningful work to advance the nonprofit's mission.

A report on this year's survey, as well as reports from the three previous years, are available free online, as are videos showing how young people reacted to nonprofits' sites and a new tool to help nonprofits benchmark their work with Millennials.

You can also join a live stream of a conference Achieve is holding on Thursday in Indianapolis to discuss how to reach young people.

Cody Switzer is Web editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.