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How One Social Venture Unlocked the Code To Millennial Giving


By Sarah McKinney 

Today the global population is being confronted by immeasurable social and environmental challenges. At the same time, the Internet gives everyone with a computer or smartphone unprecedented visibility to on-the-ground realities. This hasn’t just increased our awareness of what’s going on, but has also allowed us to connect on a more emotional level.

Countless nonprofits have been established to improve complicated situations, touching on issues such as human rights, climate change, education reform, disease prevention and poverty (to name a few), and the desire to donate money in support of these nonprofits is strong – particularly among millennials.

A recent study found that 87 percent of millennials gave money to a nonprofit in 2014. The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” campaign raised well over $100 million dollars for a single nonprofit last year, and millennials played a big part in its success. But for most nonprofits, standing out from the crowd and securing continued financial support from millennials has never been harder. And leveraging technology in a way that resonates with them has never been more important.

This is the problem that Taylor Conroy, the founder and CEO of Change Heroes, is focused on solving. After returning from a trip to Africa in 2009, where he visited a number of different villages and was able to see a library come to life as a direct result of the donation he made to the nonprofit Free the Children, he became determined to uncover what motivates his millennial peers to deepen their engagement in philanthropic giving.

He spent several months conducting creative experiments and in-depth interviews, and uncovered five key drivers:

1. Group mentality: They were more apt to give when doing it as part of a group.
2. Tangible outcomes: They wanted to see visual proof of their impact.
3. Micro giving: It was easier to part with small amounts daily than one lump sum.
4. Personal connection: The relationship between the fundraiser and donor was key.
5. Recognition: It mattered to them, and it inspires continued engagement.

He launched Change Heroes in 2011 with a business model based on these findings. Unlike other donation platforms, Change Heroes began with a very singular focus – asking “campaign runners” to rally 33 of their friends to give $3.33 every day for 3 months and raise $10,000 to build a school or library in Africa.

Free the Children was established as the platform's first implementation partner, and Change Heroes retains 6 to 10 percent of all funds raised – generating revenue needed to cover operational expenses and scale growth.

Particularly unique to Change Heroes is its personalized video invites that campaign runners can choose to send out to each potential donor – an intuitive task for a generation that uses Snapchat, Vine and FaceTime to communicate with friends. Those who take advantage of personalized videos are 80 percent more likely to reach their funding goal (than those who send the same video to everyone), and 50 percent of the people who receive a personalized video invite end up making a donation.

While the specific amounts can now vary (i.e., the daily donation, number of people giving, days the campaign is running, and total fundraising goal), the basic formula for Change Heroes has remained the same – and it’s working. To date, Change Heroes users have given $2.1 million dollars through 555 campaigns funding 210 projects, and positively impacting 210,000 children in 15 developing countries. The average donation is $246, and the average campaign raises $5,000. The company has an online dashboard that reports many of these statistics in real time, along with a Top 25 Change Heroes leaderboard, where full names are listed next to total donation amounts. But that’s just its consumer offering.

At the end of 2014, Change Heroes raised a seed round of investment and launched a white label B2B product that is revolutionizing the way charities, nonprofits and socially responsible corporations tap into millennial giving. The software allows any organization to create a custom campaign so they can better diversify their funding portfolio, and decrease reliance on large-scale yearly donations from major sources. And because the Change Heroes model of giving is so popular with millennials, organizations are expanding the age range of their donor base while giving young people a fun and easy way to pool their friends and rally support for outcomes they believe in, and perhaps didn’t know how to support in the past.

This generational transition, from relying predominantly on baby boomer donations to developing transactional relationships with millennials that are based on transparency and trust, is important to the sustainability of every single charity and nonprofit organization in the world.

One example of a for-profit company using Change Heroes’ software is Royal Bank of Canada Insurance (RBCI). The company wanted to do more for its charitable partner, and supporting economic empowerment initiatives was aligned with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals.

So, the bank worked closely with Change Heroes to create a custom campaign asking individuals to rally their friends and raise $3,000 to provide a community of mothers in Ecuador with much-needed education, business skills training and support. RBCI used social media and its existing network to spread the word. By the end of the first month, 66 campaigns were launched and $94,000 was raised – far exceeding the company’s expectations.

Other clients to date include Disney, Morgan Stanley, United Nations Foundation and Safe Horizon’s Streetwork Project, a youth and teen homelessness program formed in 1984 in response to the growing number of homeless teens in New York City.

Change Heroes works with each organization to ensure their campaign isn’t just brand-aligned, but also successfully tells the story the companies want conveyed through optimizing design, copy and video campaign components. This kind of heavy hand-holding is important, as the employees working to drive social and environmental progress from within organizations are often being pulled in a million directions. And Change Heroes wants to make sure they don’t miss out on meeting millennials where they are, in what is quickly becoming a global movement of online giving.

Image credit: Change Heroes

Sarah McKinney is a freelance writer and consultant with over a decade of experience in market research and an MBA in sustainable management. Follow her @sarahmck 

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