Three Ways to Craft a Nonprofit Model that Appeals to Millennials


by Kevin Xu

Millennials don’t like to be told what to do. I should know — I am one. I’m also the founder of Human Heritage Project and CEO of the National Rongxiang Xu Foundation, which is why I feel compelled to inform my peers that the world needs their help.

As a young generation in the throes of adulthood and armed with $600 billion in annual spending power, according to Accenture, we expect more from our nonprofits than older generations did. We don’t donate at the office and forget — we invest in the causes that interest us. That means we expect the nonprofits we invest our money in to be transparent because we care more about issues than we do business — and we’re willing to take our time and money elsewhere if a nonprofit doesn’t deliver.

Unfortunately, most nonprofits haven’t adapted to this shift in mindset. Millennials want nonprofits to engage them instead of just hitting them up for a check each month. More importantly, we want to be able to quantify the effects we have on the world. To bridge this gap and keep your philanthropic efforts viable, nonprofits must learn how to work with a more hands-on generation.

Bring Millennials Into The Nonprofit Fold

Our generation values experiences more than objects. In general, we’d rather splurge on a getaway weekend than on a new television — a mindset that also extends to nonprofits. We don’t want to give and forget; we want to buy in and make an impact.

But appealing to millennials doesn’t require nonprofits to do a complete overhaul. Nonprofits can maintain their current momentum and bring millennials along for the ride by adopting a few different strategies.

  1. Look To The Future

In my experience, millennials prefer nonprofits that make their impact by funding the future. I once worked at CGI University, founded by the Clinton Foundation, and I learned a great deal about how the organization manages to garner the attention of young people through unique educational opportunities.

During my time with CGI University, I met students from all around the world who shared their visions and ideas with fellow students, experts and leaders in business and social spheres. I matched with Abhilash Mishra, an Indian student from the California Institute of Technology who was helping his fellow citizens gain better access to science, technology, engineering and math education. During our collaboration, he received his doctorate and saw his vision bear fruit — he now serves as the director of the Kevin Xu Global Initiative on Science, Technology, and Inequality.

The more nonprofits invest in people like Mishra, who have great ideas but need help to achieve them, the more attention they will receive from millennials. Identify forward-thinking initiatives that appeal to millennials and find ways to steer your nonprofit in that direction. Organizations that show a willingness to do this will see millennial buy-in increase.

  1. Demonstrate A Shared Investment

After Mishra finished his doctorate and we parted ways, he moved on to the University of Chicago. While there, he worked in the Harris School of Public Policy, where he created an educational outreach program to help Indian students grow in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Millennials crave access to resources that help them transform their existing passions into measurable impact — something I have found to be true in my work in the nonprofit community. For nonprofits, this concept is easy but it takes some effort to employ effectively.

You can get millennials involved by offering…READ MORE