Engaging the Elusive Young Professional

If you’ve tried engaging young professionals with your nonprofit, you likely know that you can’t use the same strategies you’ve traditionally used with older donor demographics. They’re not typically as interested in the sit-down galas, and they embrace digital communications in a different way from other generations. The opportunities to engage this audience are limitless, but here are a few questions to ask as you launch or evaluate your current young professional engagement strategies:

  • What is your unique spin on young professionals initiatives? 
    Young professional groups have been one of the newer trends in the nonprofit world over the last few years, probably in part because of the increased emphasis on the millennial generation and harnessing their energy for change. As a result, it takes a lot more effort to differentiate the various groups and events to the young professional audience. What unique emotional connection can you create with young professionals? It’s not enough to simply pitch networking opportunities­ — there are dozens of happy hours and events every month to choose from. Young professionals want to feel as though they’re making a difference in a tangible and measurable way. How will their involvement transform lives or move the needle of justice?
  • What’s your endgame?
    Are you trying to cultivate young donors, provide a pipeline for your board, or beef up your volunteer base? Although many young professionals will be interested in all your organization has to offer, others will simply want to buy an event ticket or come to a one-time volunteer opportunity. Think about your organization’s greatest needs and see how they align with your engagement strategy for young professionals. Also consider that you may not be able to use a one-size-fits-all strategy for young professionals. Just like any other donor demographic, young professionals have diverse interests and skills. See what resonates and where you gain momentum; then build your strategy out from there. 
  • How will you recognize young professionals’ contributions?
    It’s important to think about how you will recognize the contributions of your young professional stakeholders. When you ask your board of directors to stand and be recognized at your luncheon, include members of your young professionals board. Feature the results of the young professionals’ chili cook-off benefit in your newsletter. Share their stories of involvement on your social feeds. You will not only reinforce the goodwill your current young professional stakeholders feel but also advertise their efforts and hopefully recruit others to join them.
  • What does success look like to you?
    Keep expectations realistic when courting the young professional demographic. Just because you rent the room, stock up on artisanal whiskey and have a compelling cause doesn’t mean the young professionals will flock to your event. It’s important to build your base of young professionals, typically in the form of a board or steering committee, so you can leverage their connections and have a firm foundation. You may only have 10 people show up to your early events, but that doesn't necessarily mean your efforts have failed. If even two of those 10 join your young professionals board or buy a ticket to an event, their impact has the potential to reach dozens of other potential donors, volunteers and advocates over time­ while contributing to your bottom line and positively impacting those you serve. Just like any stakeholder cultivation efforts, building your base takes time. It’s better to have 10 really engaged volunteers than 50 random young professionals who are just there for the drink specials. Slow and steady is the way to grow.