How nonprofits use design to reach millennial audiences

2018 How nonprofits use design to reach millennial audiences-Thumb

Planned Parenthood, Goodwill, Malala Fund, and more share their best design strategies for engaging millennial donors and supporters.

Millennials make up one of the most highly coveted audiences—especially among nonprofits. They’re three times more likely than baby boomers to participate in a crowdfunding campaign. They donate more generously than any other generation, and they’re raising a new generation of advocates to follow in their footsteps.

Still, millennials don’t just hand their money to any organization asking for help. They’re incredibly careful about who they donate to and they conduct in-depth research before making their decisions.

That’s why it’s so important for nonprofits to reach millennials with content that specifically appeals to their interests, values, and behaviors.

Here are five branding and design strategies that nonprofits use to reach millennials.

01. Be authentic

We’re living in an era of low trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, people across the world are increasingly skeptical about the credibility of organizations in business, media, government, and the nonprofit sector. This is attributed in part to online tools and social networks that filter and distort the truth.

“Growing up with the internet means you're used to a world where you can't trust what you see,” said Matthew Anderson, Lead Designer at, a nonprofit that’s building a grassroots movement for climate change. “People on the internet can lie about who they are, images and videos can be photoshopped, and websites will deliberately say misleading things just to get you to click their links.”

As a result, nonprofits have to work harder than ever to earn people’s trust. They can do this by embracing authenticity and proving that their actions match their messaging.

“Design plays a huge part in proving your authenticity, because taking the time to design something is an act of caring,” Anderson said. “When you see something well-designed, you know that somewhere another human put some of their precious time and creativity into making this thing you're looking at.”

For example, built a page of resources where people can download guides, templates, and visuals to learn more about climate change and help spread the word. They can even access editable and crowdsourced Google Docs of how-to guides for creating their own posters and designs.

The People’s Climate Mobilization Art Kit and Art Stands with Standing Rock Kit, for instance, have guides on making parachute banners along with DropBox links for downloadable, illustrated signs.

People-plant circle Resist_Build_Rise Mona Caron

These designs demonstrate how much cares about empowering its supporters, giving them the tools they need to join their cause, and listening to their voices and input to make this communal effort even stronger.

02. Segment millennial audiences

Nonprofits can get so caught up in targeting millennials that they forget that not all millennials are alike.

“Millennials are often talked about as a big block of people, but that doesn’t take into account their individual circumstances at different ages or at different life stages,” said Adam Stiska, Director of Mobile and Digital Strategies for Goodwill, a nonprofit that helps job seekers train for their careers and find work.

That’s why Goodwill focuses on sub-groupings of millennials when creating design assets.

“Certain types of individuals respond to certain messages depending on where they are in the progression of their life—if they're still in college, if they're fresh out of college at their first job, or if they're starting a family,” Stiska said. “So Goodwill fills unique opportunities with each of those groups.”

For example, Goodwill runs campus move-out events for college students. The goal is to encourage students to donate their old items instead of throw them away. These items are then sold at one of Goodwill’s 3,300 thrift stores across the US and Canada, where sales help fund the nonprofit’s job training programs.

“A lot of younger consumers today want to know that if they donate something, it's going to a good cause,” Stiska said. While Goodwill is convenient because it has so many retail and drop-off locations, Stiska knew that wasn’t enough to motivate millennial shoppers.

“We have to help people understand the impact they can have by donating to us.”

To that end, Goodwill created colorful and informative graphics that let college students know just how their donations could help those in need.

Create your own donations posters in Canva with templates like Colorful Brush Strokes Donation Poster and Teal and Yellow Church Icon Dots Charity Event Fundraising Poster

03. Appeal to millennials’ values and beliefs

In line with authenticity, millennials also want to know that a nonprofit’s mission matches up with their own values and beliefs.

This was a key learning for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides sexual health care to people in the US and around the world, when it launched its app, Spot On. The app was designed to help people track their periods and birth control methods. And while there were already many period tracking apps on the market, they didn’t align with the values of Planned Parenthood’s target audience. So the nonprofit saw an opportunity to take a different approach.

“When we started designing the app, we were working with the organization’s standard color palette, so that included having pink as an accent color,” said Jenny Friedler, Senior Director of Digital Product Lab for Planned Parenthood. “But we did a bunch of beta testing and we heard over and over again: ‘I just don't want it. I’m sick of it. It doesn’t represent me.’”

Planned Parenthood quickly adopted a more gender-neutral color palette for the app.

Planned Parenthood Spot On

This decision already aligned with the nonprofit’s intention to provide personal and non-judgemental care.

“We never want to make any assumptions about a person's gender identity or sexual orientation, or body,” Friedler said. “You'll never find a joke in Spot On that says, ‘Oh, you must be craving chocolate right now!’ There's none of that kind of schtick.”

Most strikingly, Planned Parenthood learned that this non-judgemental approach doesn’t just appeal to a gender non-conforming audience.

“The feedback came from across the board—from cisgender, heterosexual women—saying, ‘I just want to be treated like an individual and not a demographic.’ You don't have to be someone who is gender non-conforming to appreciate that.”

04. Launch peer-to-peer campaigns

Millennials want to influence – not be influenced. They want to make their voices heard, share their points of view, and know that they’re making an impact. Nonprofits can facilitate this by empowering millennials to launch their own fundraising campaigns.

Just look at Malala Fund, a nonprofit started by activist Malala Yousafzai to help young girls access education. Malala Fund invites supporters to start peer-to-peer campaigns through Facebook or donation platform Classy. For instance, they might launch a fundraise for their birthday, marathon, or community event.

To help inspire these advocates, Malala Fund designs resources and guides like the “6 Steps to Being a Successful Fundraiser” infographic.

Malala fundraiser infographic part

The Malala Fund provides designs resources and guides like the “6 Steps to Being a Successful Fundraiser” infographic

Create your own infographics in Canva with templates like Reasons to Give to Charity Infographic and Fun Ideas for Charity Infographic

It’s more engaging than a blog post or report, and easy to share with fellow supporters and friends online—further empowering millennials to influence instead of be influenced.

05. Get on Instagram

Instagram is one of the most valuable social platforms for nonprofits today. With 800 million monthly active users, it’s growing faster than ever, and is particularly popular among millennials, 59% of whom use the app. It’s also one of the most visually engaging social networks available for brands and marketers.

Nicole Cardoza, Founder and Executive Director of Yoga Foster, knows this well. Yoga Foster is a nonprofit that provides educators with yoga and mindfulness training to create healthier and happier learning environments. And Cardoza uses Instagram to share different types of content with her audience.

For example, she recently started focusing on multi-picture Instagram posts.

“They enable us to do storytelling that's usually limited to email campaigns or blog posts directly in the feed,” Cardoza said.

Take this post, which highlights quotes from an interview with grant recipient Jennifer Dahlgren:

Create your own Instagram quote graphics in Canva with templates like Simple Border Health Quote Instagram Post and Motivational Quote Instagram Post

These are presented as separate images that users can swipe through. But they clearly fit together into a comprehensive, narrative design. They also serve to break down a lengthy text post into a fun and engaging visual experience.

Going further, Cardoza uses Instagram Stories to give her advocates the tools they need to help share Yoga Foster’s message.

“We have been using Instagram Stories to empower our audience to create their own content," she said. “Using templates for them to screenshot and share their stories of how our programs have impacted their classrooms!”

Cardoza also uses Instagram to drive audiences to read long-form articles.

“I think one thing most marketers think about millennials is that we don't like to read,” she said. “However, long-form articles and stories are really popular in our demographic – we just need the right calls to action to settle down and get the full story.”

This post, for instance, promotes a consolidation of long-form articles about the teacher walkout.

“We also have someone on our team explain things out loud to our users on Instagram Stories, which is helpful for making heavy content light and fun,” she added.

As for the CTAs, Cardoza keeps it simple by asking people to click the link in their bio, tag a friend, or share the post.

“We've found that promoted posts on Facebook with a tag a friend CTA have the highest engagement,” she said. “The organic social game is a tough one to play well, but can make micro-impacts that are sometimes the most impactful.”

Designing for millennial advocates

Millennials may seem like an enigmatic audience for many marketers, but for nonprofits, they actually present a huge opportunity for driving support and engagement. After all, millennials are more generous and thoughtful donors than any other generation. Nonprofits just have to use the right design strategies to reach them.

As the above examples show, it’s crucial to understand millennials’ values and beliefs, find them where they’re active on Instagram, and empower them to launch their own campaigns. Most importantly, nonprofits should always prioritize authenticity and transparency. Since millennials grew up in the digital age, they’re skilled at spotting phony marketing and clickbait. Craft your content carefully and make sure it aligns with your nonprofit’s actions, and you should be set to grab the interest of millennials and maybe even win their hearts.

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