Chasing the millennials: Area nonprofits tap young pros to build future base of support

Biz News

FUEL Milwaukee displays the missions and volunteer opportunities of a variety of nonprofits at its annual Adopt-a-Nonprofit showcase.

As Milwaukee-area nonprofit organizations peer ahead, more are making targeted efforts to rally next-generation leaders around their missions and build a future backbone of support.

From chairing fundraising initiatives that hone the skillsets and networks of millennials to assembling affinity groups and committees dedicated to young professional participation, nonprofits are diversifying the ways in which they reach out to younger advocates.

When nonprofits look around their board tables and into their trove of donors, they’re realizing that if they aren’t cultivating support for the next decade and beyond, they’re going to be in trouble, said Amy Lindner, president and chief executive officer at Meta House.

The Milwaukee nonprofit blankets women who are recovering from substance abuse with treatment services and resources.

Lindner isn’t immediately worried about Meta House’s sustainability but said that an organization won’t sustain itself if its leadership and staff don’t put in the work.

At Meta House, that work has fallen into the form of the Young Professionals Advisory Committee, an established group of nearly 10 millennials who help the organization fundraise and “friendraise” by drawing in members from their individual networks.

Prior to YPAC, Meta House had created what it dubbed a “YP Collaborative” in which it hosted volunteer days open to young professionals, followed by a celebratory reception geared toward young and community-minded individuals.

That collaborative morphed into YPAC, as Meta House realized that there was “a real gap for opportunities” in nonprofits for millennials, said Sarah Pollack, partnerships and communications manager of the nonprofit.

Among YPAC’s most recent accomplishments was a screening of the documentary “Amy,” a nearly sold-out fundraiser held at the Avalon Theater that generated about $1,000 in in-kind donations of goods for babies.

As Meta House continues to flesh out and expand YPAC – with a cap of 13 members – it will likely incorporate more leadership development opportunities, acting as a potential pipeline to the organization’s board of directors.

With so many young professionals facing significant amounts of student loan debt, the demographic tends to commit to volunteer work and grow into the next generation of donors, according to Pollack.

“We want them to invest and understand and be advocates for our work,” she said.

United Way LINC gives millennials hands-on opportunities to volunteer with United Way partner agencies in the community.
United Way LINC gives millennials hands-on opportunities to volunteer with United Way partner agencies in the community.

United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has joined eight other United Ways across the country in sewing together a young professional-centric operation. United Way LINC (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.) corrals professionals age 30 and under around volunteer opportunities with United Way partner agencies.

For instance, United Way LINC in greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County took a group of young professionals to Fondy Farm in October 2014 to construct a fence around 40 acres of farmland. That social, hands-on activity is the kind of giving back opportunity that tends to appeal to young professionals, according to focus groups United Way previously conducted with young professionals across the country.

Young people want to get their hands on what they’re doing before they invest in something with a financial gift, said Gina Santagati, director, major gifts and strategic markets at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.

While young professionals have largely known United Way as an organization their parents and grandparents gave back to through the workplace, LINC acquaints them with United Way’s platter of partners firsthand and opens up an outlet through which they can give back in a very tangible way.

“I think there is just a sense of responsibility that (millennials) want to be involved and they want to be doing something to make a difference,” Corry Joe Biddle, executive director of networking group FUEL Milwaukee, said of young professionals’ approach to nonprofit support.

FUEL Milwaukee displays the missions and volunteer opportunities of a variety of nonprofits at its annual Adopt-a-Nonprofit showcase.
FUEL Milwaukee displays the missions and volunteer opportunities of a variety of nonprofits at its annual Adopt-a-Nonprofit showcase.

FUEL Milwaukee has also taken new measures to establish stronger relations between young professionals and nonprofits. Through the organization’s Adopt-a-Nonprofit Program, it showcases a variety of community organizations at its monthly socials and connects its millennial members with volunteer opportunities that suit their interests and skillsets. In the four years FUEL Milwaukee has orchestrated Adopt-a-Nonprofit, it has helped nearly 40 nonprofits.

From Biddle’s perspective, nonprofit organizations are excelling at finding creative ways to engage young professionals through designated groups, committees and events.

They could do better, however, at collaborating on a broader scale, she said. And organizations also need to equip all elements of their operations with young professionals – from their internal workforce to their boards and committees.

Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, located in Brookfield, has added two directors under the age of 40 to its board this year.

Board diversity from all angles – ethnicity, gender, industry and age – is key to helping the Wilson Center solve problems that don’t always have easy answers, according to Jonathan Winkle, president and CEO.

By incorporating young professionals into its mix, the Wilson Center can tap a cohort that is often more willing to take risks, according to Winkle.

“In a way, (when we’re younger) we’re not limited in our thinking or our imaginations from things that we’ve actually tried and maybe failed at doing,” he said.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display