Throw out the UNICEF box--The new rules of charitable giving in the Interactive Age

Trick-or-treating with a UNICEF box was like being a Thalidomide baby at the local pinball arcade … on “Kids Play Free” night. That thing was Halloween kryptonite, a cardboard candy-repellent that practically screamed, “STOP! Do NOT give this boy any candy. Stick a penny in me instead.”

Worse, we had no idea what UNICEF was or what they did with the money we raised. My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Morgan, told us that we were raising money to help starving children in Africa. But I didn't know anything about Africa except what I learned from watching TV, so all I could conjure up was Abbott and Costello in pith helmets and some guy in a gorilla suit tearing open our UNICEF boxes and laughing maniacally as they shook the coins into canvas sacks with dollar signs stenciled on them.

And judging by the campaign’s fundraising effectiveness, that scenario wasn’t too far off the mark. Over the past 65 years, UNICEF’s no-treat trick has hauled in $167 million, an impressive sum until you compare it to the $100 million that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised over 65 days last summer.

Obviously, social media has disrupted the world of fundraising, just as it continues to completely reconfigure the way we communicate with each other. But what has really upset the charitable giving status quo is the millennial generation. These 80 million people between the ages of 18 and 34 who are on the cusp of taking over the world simply think differently about charitable giving.

Here are eight things you need to understand about the new philanthropic mindset of the millennial generation.

It’s about your cause, not your organization. There is simply not enough Pabst Blue Ribbon on the planet to get Millennials to sit down and watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon (which got cancelled just last month after a 58-year run). To Millennials, it’s all about Jerry’s kids, not Jerry.

In fact, they generally don’t trust your organization. Not yet, anyway. Which is why you need to earn that trust by making sure all your administrative shots are up to date and available for public inspection on sites like Guidestar.org and Bright Funds.

It’s an investment, not a donation. According to Amy Webb, who forecasts digital trends, "A millennial who's grown up in a world that's more participatory because of the digital tools that we have … wants to feel like they're making an investment. Not just that they're investing their capital, but they're investing emotionally."

And a monthly investment is so much easier to make. According to the 2013Millennial Impact Report, more than half of those surveyed (52%) “reported being interested in monthly giving.” So rather than go for the big one-time annual gift, give them the option to spread out their contributions over monthly auto-pay contributions.

And it’s not just the money. They are investing their personal brand in your mission. By the very act of giving (and then boasting about that gift), Millennials are telling hundreds of their closest friends that your cause is worthy of their personal endorsement.

And that’s why social narcissism is the best thing to happen to charitable giving since Paypal. Millennials don’t trust four-out-of-five dentists. They trust their friends. Period. So you need to give them a mechanism to immediately boast to their friends about having invested in your now-mutual cause through links back to the leading social media platforms. You also need to give them content they can share—like video, photos, and stories that tell of the great work your organization is doing with their investment.

And since most Millennials have never seen (let alone licked) a postage stamp, you also need to make it easy for them to give with a click. According to The Next Generation of American Giving, a study  released by Blackbaud last summer, 62% of Millennials made charitable contributions through mobile platforms. So make sure they can support your cause online and on the go.

"Nice try, kid, but you still ain't getting any candy!"

"Nice try, kid, but you still ain't getting any candy!"

Give them progress reports on your mutual cause. You don’t need to cure cancer with their donation but you sure better show them you’re trying. If you think of your new supporter as a new friend on your Facebook page rather than another item on an Xcel spreadsheet, you may feel more inclined to share slightly more personal updates with them. You don’t have to post photos of every meal you prepare for your cause, but it’s worth noting when your cause took its first step or tied its own shoes. And if you get the balance right, your new friend might just find those posts worth reposting on her Facebook page, as well.