SM& Presents: The Changing Face of Philanthropy

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How does a nonprofit or mission-driven organization engage its donors in the digital age? It’s a critical question for philanthropies. This morning, Solomon McCown hosted its 22nd event in the SM& Presents series, titled “The Changing Face of Philanthropy: The Challenge of Engaging the Next Generation of Donors.”

Our panel, comprised of leaders from the nonprofit, foundation and corporate worlds, was moderated by Helene Solomon, CEO of Solomon McCown & Company. She set the table with some stunning facts from the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which found that 75 percent of millennial respondents made a financial gift to at least one nonprofit organization last year and 63 percent volunteered their time. It’s clear millennials are willing to engage—but how do you keep them coming back for more?

Susan Paresky, Senior Vice President for Development and the Jimmy Fund Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, emphasized that millennials want to be involved. Paresky said that The Jimmy Fund had to limit how many hours its staff could volunteer because they wanted to be participating in the events, walks and tournaments being organized by their organization.

“Nothing is more powerful than a patient telling their story,” was the advice from Steve Meunier, Director of Public Affairs at Genzyme Corporation. When evaluating organizations for charitable grants from Genzyme, Meunier reiterated the importance of vetting a nonprofit and ensuring a donation is well-used.

Stacy Palmer, Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, noted how many millennials want to start their own nonprofits to make a big impact. Wealthy millennials are also motivated to donate during their lifetime, eschewing foundations that bear their names.

“Experience first. Mission second,” was the advice from Sam Slater, Executive Director of the Slater Foundation. As the “token millennial” on the panel, Slater stated that his generation enjoys event-based fundraising, or “partying with a purpose.” But while the boomers enjoy sit-down meals, millennials tend to enjoy unique venues and experiences. Slater also recommended that organizations should hold networking events with no “ask” of attendees so younger participants can get to know an organization.

Panelists also discussed the value of social media for nonprofits. The incredible success of the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge was the envy of the nonprofit world, but Palmer noted how its second year wasn’t the runaway success of 2014. But, according to Paresky, it doesn’t mean social media is irrelevant to nonprofits. “It is only just beginning,” she said of social media for mission-driven organizations. She said that The Jimmy Fund increased its social media staff from one person to 10 to fully embrace these channels.

Slater added that organizations need to know when to make a direct ask for money and when they should ask for something else, like a shared status update on a young donor’s social media channels. Millennials are willing to ask friends for donations, Paresky said. “They know it takes money to run a nonprofit.”

Thank you to everyone who attended our 22nd SM& presents panel. To see more from this morning’s conversation, check out #SMCPR on Twitter and stay tuned for a video from the event!

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