On Wednesday February 22, 2012 Paul Ghiz, Managing Partner of DonorDrive Social Fundraising Software and David Hessekiel of the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council hosted a webinar with special guest Zac Johnson, head of Youth Marketing at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Under Zac’s direction CMN Dance Marathons are held on 150 college campuses across the country and raise $10 million annually. Zac provided us much core insight on the elusive Millennial fundraiser and shared some of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ secrets of success on how they’ve been so effective at engaging today’s college students. We feel this important insight is worth sharing with the non-profit community and assembled some of the Zac’s comments from this hour-long webinar.
Who are the Millennials?
It’s generally agreed that Millennials were born between 1980 and 1995, so this group includes today’s college students and young professionals.
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Dance Marathon
What they do:
Raised over $50 million to date for 175 children’s hospitals with 100% of the donations staying local.
Key Benefits of DonorDrive for Dance Marathons:
- Deep social media integration gives software instant credibility with college students.
- Social media and email tools make enthusiasm for the cause easy.
- Simplicity of system makes it easy to sign up year after year.
Program has grown 80% over the last three years.
Zac: There are definitely a lot of immediacy concerns with Millennials. When you work in a people industry like we all do it’s easy to discount that kind of immediacy, that need to be constantly wired into the web. Things may be perceived as negative attributes of this generation (at least in terms of fundraising potential) but there’s really a lot of great opportunity for them to fundraise on your behalf. Just because Generation Y needs kind of an instant gratification more so than Generation X or Boomers, or because they’re much more engaged in social media rather than in person-to-person interaction, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same capabilities. I think they have even more potential to be fundraisers and volunteers for your organization. There’s a lot of potential and a lot of wealth to be gained from this generation.
Millennials are all about the experience. What they’ve been able to gain from the experience of helping a cause (be it a project-based learning element, be it self ownership in something bigger than themselves, or maybe it is just a great way to meet people and socialize on campus) it’ll be the value of that experience that they will then tie to your cause. They will help to support your cause even more because there’s something in it for them. Not to say that this next generation is selfish, they’re just savvy. They know there are a lot of good causes to support. They want something that’s going to make them feel good about giving their support.
Zac’s own story.
Zac himself is on the older cusp of the Millennial Generation. The story of how he got involved with his first Dance Marathon provides some insight into why buying into the cause itself is not a prerequisite.
Zac: I’m blessed everyday to work for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. This is my dream job and I’m very passionate about the cause and the kids that we serve. It wasn’t always that way though. When I was an 18-year-old freshman at Indiana University, my only interest in Dance Marathon was the pitch that was made to me: “Zac, for 36 hours you’re going to be locked in a room with 600 women. You do the math.” As an 18-year-old-kid, that’s what resonated with me. Before I participated in my first Dance Marathon, you could have told me night and day about sick kids and what it’s like to be a parent in the hospital with them and I would have no emotional touchstone for that. I’m an 18-year-old male and I don’t have my own family yet. I’ve never met a sick child.
Dance Marathon was an experience because it was something that everybody on campus was doing. It was the social part of the experience that got me involved. Once they got me in that door, you better believe I was hooked because I got to hear about some of these families that Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals was helping and the 17 million kids they were treating each and every year.
The message that got me involved is not doing a disservice to the cause. Dance Marathon is what got me into philanthropy. It’s what led me to my dream job that I’ve been at four years now.
The value of experiential fundraising.
Millennials as a group gravitate to experiential fundraisers. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals have had incredible success with this type of event.
Zac: I think experiential fundraising, and the tactics we bring to it work because it takes this generation outside the norm, out of their daily routine. We talk about the Millennial’s need for immediacy, but they also have a need for depth. On one hand you might say that this generation has a terrible attention span. Where if it’s not tweeted at them in the next thirty seconds, they’re onto the next thing. But on the other hand, this last weekend we had two dance marathons, one was 40 hours long and the other was 46 hours long. These students are in that same space together and on their feet the entire time.
That sense of immediacy can be displaced through experiential fundraising. This generation more than any other generation needs to feel impact. They need to feel an emotional touchstone to what they’re doing. I think they’ll be the biggest generation yet in terms of embracing causes and in terms of service, but it’s not because there’s an overarching sense of “We need to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” In experiential fundraising it’s all about converting other people to your cause.
It’s almost a spiritual thing to them. In Dance Marathons, they’re going to a physical place away from their daily routine, away from the normal rush of their lives. For this event, maybe they’re going to a campus gym. 364 days out of the year that’s just a gym, but it becomes someplace special, someplace sacred. The old 1950s tradition of the high school lock-in was attempting to do just that in terms of building communities within those high schools.
One of the examples that I share in terms of Dance Marathon is that we have 600,000 college students fundraising for our cause. That’s not to say that 600,000 students (roughly 8% of the college demographic) truly believes that Children’s Miracle Network or their local hospital is the most important cause to champion. Before they participate in Dance Marathon, they may only be aware of the causes Kim Kardashian’s tweeting about: Clean water rights in Africa or whatever the hot button issue is at the moment. However you get them into that event, it’s like a retreat. By the end of it they’ve all come around and experienced something on a new level.
That’s why we advocate experiential fundraising on our end, why Dance Marathon in particular for us has been so successful. But then I think you could also say that’s why Relay for Life has been so successful on the campuses that it’s integrated itself into.
They’re fundraisers, not donors.
Zac: Millennials are not necessarily donors, they’re fundraisers. That’s a key distinction. The Dance Marathon at my alma mater Indiana University last November raised 1.8 million dollars. That was all student-led fundraising. Are the students themselves contributing 1.8 million dollars? No, they don’t have the liquid assets to do that. But at the end of the day it’s their ability to mobilize the community to give that much.
If they’re passionate about something they’ll go all out and they’ll knock down business doors to make business contacts to underwrite their event. They’ll email everybody they’ve ever met or known and ask them, but they have to be passionate about it. And that comes back to the experiential fundraising. I think some organizations discount this generation because they aren’t as inclined to give readily. That’s not how they view their service. They don’t view their part as “I’ll write a $50 check, I’m done.” Their emotional touchstone is sharing their love of the cause with 10 other people. And if there’s a way you can monetize that sharing of the cause, all the better. For them they need something deeper than just writing a check. And so we need to look at this generation as fundraisers rather than donors.