Attracting Millennial Donors: Dogwood Acres Dog Park

Attracting Millennial Donors: Dogwood Acres Dog Park

by Gabriella McKanna
May 05, 2021

Donors are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. In a very literal sense, they keep the lights on so volunteers and employees can work hard to further the organization’s mission. As younger generations come of age, nonprofits must engage them to ensure the viability of the organization over time.

Millennials (defined by the Pew Research Center as those born between 1981 and 1996) are now a financial force to be reckoned with. Leaders in the nonprofit industry must understand what drives and inspires these potential donors, and understand that the approach to engaging this subset of individuals may be quite different from what has worked for the organization in the past.

The story of one community in the Midwest, where a group of millennials came together and raised the funds needed to establish a long-desired dog park, shows how this generation can mobilize for causes they care about.

Making Dogwood Acres a Reality

In Sterling, IL, a dog park had become a much-desired amenity because many renters and homeowners in the area do not have fenced-in backyards and are unable to let their dogs run loose. But for years, local organizations had been unable to turn the idea into reality.

Several young community members recognized the need for a place to take dogs for exercise and play. There is a dog park in a neighboring town, but it is mostly open space with little equipment, and these millennials pictured a much grander park for Sterling.

They pitched their idea to local leaders and received mixed reactions. Many of the officials were concerned about the cost, and others thought the project might be better handled by those with more experience. That only encouraged these young citizens to take matters into their own hands, and they began raising the money for the dog park on their own. (This is a great example of a key characteristic of millennials: do not expect them to comply with tradition. If your organization is approached with new ideas, be flexible and allow these individuals to achieve their goals on their own terms.)

The dog park proponents reached out to the Sauk Valley Keystone Group (SVKG), which had been established by the city and the local chamber of commerce to engage millennials and Generation Z in discussions regarding the community. The SVKG worked with the chamber and the city to plan the dog park, and the city park district took care of the legality of the venture while the SVKG kept control of the creative process.

Members of the SVKG used their connections to rally volunteers to put up the fence for the dog park to keep costs down. “This was a park that was built by the community for the community,” said Marshall Doane, a key player in the endeavor.

Millennials Are Fantastic Fundraisers

Dogwood Acres is an example of how millennials’ ability to mobilize their communities makes them particularly strong fundraisers. Because millennials are so connected to their communities, they are more likely to donate to a nonprofit if a friend or family member makes the request.

Even if the individual donation amounts are small, there is power in numbers and a single event could prove to be a great fundraising success. Recognizing this, and understanding how to harness this power, is critical for nonprofits.

Since this generation values autonomy and creativity, you can also expect them to come up with new and exciting fundraising ideas. For example, the Dogwood Acres crew teamed up with a local bar and grill to host a “Paws on the Patio” event. Attendees could bring their dogs and enjoy a night of food, drinks and live music, with a small area set up for the dogs to get to know each other.

To raise money for the dog park, committee members volunteered to bartend, and the group also sold t-shirts. Branded merchandise starts a conversation when it is publicly displayed and is a great way to target millennials for fundraising purposes. They are very likely to share a unique pet product or personalized clothing on social media, providing great exposure for your cause.

Millennials Pursue Causes, Not Organizations

Millennials tend to view nonprofit organizations as a means to an end. These donors care deeply about the issues they are passionate about and want to donate to organizations that can demonstrate how they are advancing the cause.

It is critical to build a personal relationship with millennials before asking for donations. They are some of the most informed consumers in the market today, and traditional marketing tactics typically have little effect on them. They look for authenticity and are quick to fact-check a claim.

Advertising generally does not influence their spending behavior. A 2015 survey of millennials by research and consulting firm Millennial Branding found that only 1% said they would trust a brand more after seeing an appealing advertisement.

Millennials greatly value sincerity and personal relationships, and social media is an excellent way to connect with them — as long as you understand that it should be used to promote the cause. For example, you might feature stories from people who have benefitted from your services. If you can demonstrate how your organization makes a difference, you can get millennial donors to champion you on social media and harness the great amount of influence this generation has.

They also are very attuned to the needs of their communities. Because they value deeply meaningful connections, they tend to support organizations that can properly demonstrate the tangibility and impact of their projects and achievements.

Animal Welfare Is Important to Them

Animal welfare causes are of particular interest to this generation. In short, millennials love their pets. Not only are millennials more likely to own a pet than other generations, that pet is more likely to have come from a rescue or an animal shelter.

According to 2015 data from research firm GfK, 51.6% of all U.S. households own a dog or cat. Among millennial households, the percentage rises to 57%, with another 20% reporting they intend to get a dog or cat. Among those that own pets, 35% of millennials adopted their pet, compared to 32% of pet owners from the baby boomer generation.

The Future of Donor Relationships

If your organization has not yet begun building personal relationships with younger generations like millennials, there is no time like the present to start. Begin by strengthening your social media presence and considering how to best communicate your mission.

Allow your potential donors to feel your passion for your cause. Solicit input from the community for fresh ideas and invite younger generations to work with you on implementing these suggestions. Your actions will not go unnoticed by millennials and will help you attract a new generation of loyal donors.

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Gabriella McKanna - Consulting | Armanino
Senior Consultant
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