Charity: water, Scott Harrison’s nonprofit organization, is at the fore of a tough task for the nonprofit sector: convincing the Millennial generation, underemployed and often dubbed apathetic compared to their predecessors, to give some of the little money to charity. For a sector overly reliant on generating money from an aging Baby Boomer population, getting young Millennials donating to nonprofits early is a key to long-term sustainability. That’s why many charities are working to develop a more interactive, customizable, and transparent giving experience.
“The Millennial generation is about identifying with a cause,” says Marc Chardon,the CEO of Blackbaud, a software developer for nonprofits that tracks giving trends. “[Donating] has become very personal and local.”
In charity: water’s case, that means encouraging supporters to be not only donors but also fundraisers. Half of the funds generated by the organization come from an online fundraising platform in which individuals create their own personal fundraising campaigns on behalf of the nonprofit. Often, people use the platform on their birthdays and ask others to donate their age in dollars instead of providing gifts. Sometimes the fundraisers are more inventive—in September a woman raised $30,000 by promising to swim across the San Francisco Bay naked, while an 8-year-old generated $15,000 by eating rice and beans for 25 days and promising her family would donate the savings made from buying cheaper groceries.
“Many charities go out and just ask people for money,” Harrison says. “We ask people for their voice.”
It’s an approach that seems to resonate with Millennials. The average age of mycharity: water’s users is 33. The fundraisers have generated almost $20 million total since the platform was launched in 2009, mostly through small donations of less than $100. The organization’s pledge to use all donated funds on fieldwork (private donors fund organizational costs) also assuages young people’s tendency to distrust formal institutions. In a post-recession environment where charitable giving has shrunk, charity: water has increased its donations each year since its founding.