Millennials and Philanthropy: 5 Tips I Learned from TOMS Shoes


The Millennial Generation, also known in part as Generation Y, is often describe very indistinctly described generation that is known only to follow Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Almost every piece of literature out there defines the Millienial Generation as being from a different time span, usually somewhere in the early-to-middle 1980’s to somewhere between 1993 and 2003. This makes it hard to define exactly who the product of this generation is in terms of specific individuals of a specific age. Viewpoints of the millinnials and their lifestyles also vary, as shown by the two Urban Dictionary definitions of the Millennial Generation as posted below.

(Click here to read definitions on Urban Dictionary)

It is perhaps the advertisement on the page, however, that best describes the Millennial Generation. TOMS Shoes does an excellent job of targeting their advertising to this group of young activists who seem quite inclined to help out their fellow man in whatever ways they can afford. While they might not be willing to give $1000 to their school booster club, they will pay $40-$100 for a pair of shoes it cost less than $20 to make. Why? Well, for each pair of shoes that they buy they know for certain that a shoe-less child will have new shoes.

Although I just recently bought my first pair of TOMS, I have been following the company for a while because I was very interested in their business model and the idea of One-For-One. After seeing the company grow exponentially over the last 2-3 years, I have begun to see that many of the ideas that they use to market and promote their cause and their company could be adapted to other non-profits to encourage donations and volunteerism from the Millennial Generation. Below are five tips I learned from TOMS:

 1. Request donations in small amounts and re-emphasize that every little bit counts!

So often I receive lybunts (flyers or postcards requesting donations) from my undergraduate institution, my former student organization and various non-profit organizations requesting donations. I am a kind-hearted person and really want to donate and help out as much as I can. It is often disheartening, however, when I look at the donation card. Suggested donations usually range from $100 to $1000, with an occasional card offering a $50 choice. As a broke college student, I can’t afford to send $50 every time a I receive a mailing or even every other time. Then, you get to the little blank space that asks you to fill in your own donation amount. Based on my time working for the Georgia 4-H Foundation, I know that the blank space is meant for people who want to give less than the designated choices, more than the designated choices, or an amount that falls between the designated choices. However, the fact that I can’t afford to give even the minimum suggested donation amount often discourages me and I end up sending nothing.

According to recent studies, most people in Generation Y (which makes up the majority of the Millennial Generation) give less than $100 with an average of less than $400 per year. This may not seem like a lot; however, when you actually step back to think that many millennials are still in college or are still plugging away at paying their student loans with their entry level salaries, it seems generous that they find as much to donate as they do. It is important then, when requesting support from millennials, that we keep in mind that they have financial limitations when it comes to giving large amounts. They may, however, become your most loyal supporters and donate more over their lifetimes than the preceding generation . . . as long as you don’t mind receiving it $10 at a time.

2. Involve millennials in marketing/promoting your cause, they are the experts at reaching their generation!

The internship program is just one of many ways that TOMS leverages the power of the millennials to reach out to their peers. TOMS founder, Blake Mycoski, spends time traveling to colleges around the nation speaking to groups about the TOMS project, his own reasons for starting the program and how each purchase makes a difference. Students skip classes and work and dinner with friends to come out, hear him speak, and of course show him their choice of footwear. The college based One Day Without Shoes event allows student-led college chapters of TOMS to hold awareness events on campus (and do some free advertising for TOMS). The movement reaches out to students who want to help and be a part of a larger philanthropic movement, but can’t afford to give large amounts of money or commit an extended amount of time. People who are already passionate about helping children in need are the prime candidates to join the TOMS movement, so the student chapters and the organization reach out to these individuals through their advertisements and promotions.

3. Don’t be afraid to aim high with your expectations and goals

All their lives, people have been telling us (the millennials, I mean) to “reach for the sky”, “shoot for the stars” or to “dream big”. We believe we can achieve ANYTHING! Telling us we can’t doesn’t make us resigned to sticking with the status quo, but instead inspires us to try harder to reach our goal. As an organization or group, millennials like to see that the organizations they give to have big hopes, dreams and goals to make a real, substantial change in the world. At 12 years old, Zach Hunter decided that there needed to be an end to modern day slavery so he started the “Loose Change to Loosen Chains” movement. Several years, three (or four) books and millions of dollars later he is still raising money to fight for abolition of slavery throughout the world. All this happened because a twelve year old boy had a dream, so don’t discourage people by having high goals.

4. Reach out to potential donors and volunteers where they already are — Go mobile, social and personalized!

The Millennial Generation is addicted to their gadgets. It’s obvious to anyone who has set foot on a college campus in the last three or four years that if you want to reach these active individuals, you need a line-in to their gadgets. Consider using Magmito’s free, easy app builder to create an app for your organization. Or, instead of taking people’s home address, have them sign a release and give their cell phone number so you can text them info! It will work much better than sending them snail mail. I can guarantee that 100%! 😉

5. Clearly and specifically define how the efforts of donors and volunteers are REALLY helping!

Young adults and teens are much more likely to text money to the Red Cross for tsunami relief than they are to give money to the United Way. It’s just the way we are nowadays. We want to know that if we are giving of ourselves by donating time, talent or treasure, our donations are actually creating positive for someone specific. TOMS tapped into that idea by specifically identifying and quantifying how your donations help. By purchasing a pair of TOMS shoes, you are providing a pair of shoes for a child in need. They do lots of filming and photography to ensure that they can document the children receiving the shoes on their shoe drops. They even take along some lucky people to help give the shoes. Members of the Millennial Generation pitched in by the thousands to help raise money for Haiti, because they saw a definite need and knew that every dollar they could raise would be a big help. Find a way to form that kind of connection with what is being done in your organization. Show your prospective donors specifically how they can help you and your organization.

I hope that these few tips can be of help to you and your organization. As a member of said generation, these tips are primarily based on my own personal opinion and some great reports, news articles, tv shows and personal interaction. Overall, however, I believe it does sum up the main ideas of how to target millennials to help your organization.

What ideas do you have to add to these five? Please share them in the comments box!

See you next week,