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How to Tell Your Story to Generation Y

Don't even act like you don't want to tell young people about what you're doing. Whether you're feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or curing the sick, you want young people involved. They bring a certain energy and charisma to a volunteer opportunity or event. They tell their friends about what they did with you. And, if they like helping you out, you might have them involved for a very long time.

But how can you get your message out to them? And how can you make them listen and respond? While this list isn't necessarily comprehensive, these ideas will help you get your message across to a group that receives more messages and advertisements than ever before.

  • Get digital. While direct mail may work for you, online communications work best for Gen Y'ers. They've likely moved around over the last few years, so even if you have their address on file, chances are it's outdated by two or three moves. And, with many 20-somethings using their inbox and social networking accounts to keep track of what's important, your message needs to get online to get noticed.
  • Get relevant. Once you're online, you've got to make your message relevant to your readers. AdSense has made most ads people see on Web sites relevant to the content, so your message must blend in with their interests and passions. But, it also has to make sense in the context of their lives. Don't ask them to commit hours every week for a year during a time of life that is full of exploration and transitions.
  • Get simple. Attention spans are decreasing faster than the icecaps. If you can't say it in less than 100 words, you won't have any takers. Your initial message only needs to result in the next step, not every step. Your first goal should be to get them to respond with the next appropriate action, whether that is visiting your Web site, filling out some information, or taking a survey. After that, simplfy your message so they take another step.
  • Get practical. Don't ask for a big donation. Don't invite them to a stuffy cocktail reception. Instead, ask them to do something during a commercial break or while they're killing time before getting to work. Ask them to spare you some pocket change. When appealing to younger donors and volunteers, you want to create loyalty so they keep coming back once they have more time and money.
  • Get original. You've got to stand out in a crowded marketplace that isn't thinning out anytime soon. Not only do you have to compete with other nonprofits nearby, but if you're asking for just a few bucks, you're competing with iTunes, Starbucks and anything else that is reaching into the shallow pockets of Millennials. An original and creative idea (think sticky) has a better chance of getting these folks to take the next step.

Gen Y messaging isn't overly-difficult, but it does involve careful planning and execution. While average donations and volunteer time may be smaller and less consistent, the goal should be to develop a relationship that lasts for years to come.

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