Consider this – Baby Boomers will bequeath more than $30 trillion to their heirs. This begs the question, can non-profit organizations equip the next generation to step into the philanthropic shoes of their elders?

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF is the latest example of an organization that has taken a bold step into the world of millennial engagement. A few years ago, staff member Casey Rotter was working on the planned giving team, helping donors include the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in their estate plans. Separate of estate gifts, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF was cultivating a robust portfolio of funding opportunities from high capacity individuals but, Rotter observed, no one was cultivating the millennials who would one day, when their companies matured or wealth was inherited, become the main source of major donor revenue for the organization. Rotter brought this gap and opportunity to the attention of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s senior leadership and with their blessing, created UNICEF Next Generation (NextGen).

Engaging Young Advocates and Donors
NextGen was designed to engage millennials in two key ways – through a pledge/membership program and through leadership roles on regional Steering Committees. Through the monthly pledge program, members gain access to opportunities to learn about UNICEF’s priorities, attend engaging events, and take action locally on behalf of the children of the world. At an event held at the TOMS Flagship Store in Venice, California, for example, NextGen Los Angeles hosted Kevin Bales, co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves and author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Members had the chance to learn about his experience working with victims of slavery and human trafficking, which provided them with valuable insight to better advocate for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s End Trafficking program. 

At a more strategic level, NextGen engages high profile and/or high capacity young professionals to serve on the Steering Committee in hopes of developing in them a lifetime love of philanthropy, an understanding of children’s rights, and a commitment to UNICEF’s mission to put children first. Rotter recruited Jenna Bush Hager to serve as the Founding Board Chair. Together, the women formed a Steering Committee and program that would not only develop young, influential leaders into supporters, but also prepare them for the responsibilities of board membership – whether that be with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF or another organization.

Developing Young Leaders
“I learned very quickly not to beat around the bush,” Rotter shared of the process by which they set Steering Committee engagement expectations. Speaking of the Steering Committee’s annual review process, she said, “I don’t want to talk about minimum requirements. I want to talk about what they want to accomplish, their goals for serving with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, their big ideas.” With a focus on outcomes, members of the NextGen Steering Committees in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta participate in an annual reapplication to evaluate their own performance year to year. This reapplication asks the members to address the status of their give/get goal (the requirement that asks them to give and/or raise a minimum of $6,000 a year), to reflect on their accomplishments, and to reexamine why they should stay on the committee.

Recruiting Influential Partners
With modest organizational financial resources, Rotter leads a team of two to manage the national NextGen program, which boasts successful partnerships that have generated millions of dollars for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The first NextGen-led partnership was with Lauren Bush Lauren, who wanted to support UNICEF’s malnutrition alleviation efforts in Guatemala. Lauren co-founded the widely known FEED bags (and now accessories) and donated a portion of the sales from select bags to support UNICEF’s nutrition programs. The collaboration has generated more than $200,000 in support of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and remains a fruitful partnership to date.

More recently, NextGen engaged its own National Development Chair Sterling McDavid and her company The Starling Project, which resulted in a significant gift from the young entrepreneur. With an interest in supporting UNICEF’s solar panel pump program in Chad, she has made both personal and corporate philanthropic commitments to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The evolution of McDavid’s engagement showcases the kind of long-term donor relationship that NextGen is focused on generating among this cohort.

Her enthusiasm for the cause also caught the attention of her family, well-known Texas philanthropists. As the McDavids saw their daughter’s passion for UNICEF grow over the years, they began joining her at events to learn more about UNICEF’s work. McDavid’s mother even joined her on a UNICEF field visit to Rwanda to witness the organization’s programs in action. Through NextGen’s initial engagement, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF has gained the support of multiple generations of the McDavid family, as well as the possibility for future generations to join in the family’s U.S. Fund for UNICEF giving tradition.

Early Engagement Pays Off
Today, NextGen engages millennials, but its purpose is to secure future donors across the organization (individuals, foundations, corporations, etc.) through early engagement. Giving trends indicate that the U.S. Fund for UNICEF will reap significant benefits from such a thoughtful investment in a generation of budding philanthropists. As millennials age out of the NextGen program and engage with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF as traditional donors, a new generation will be poised to take on the NextGen legacy – continually building the organization’s donor pipeline.

Many CCS clients who have embarked upon similar programs have found that engaging early, nurturing strategic leadership, and remaining mission-driven produces encouraging results.  NextGen initiates young leaders into a lifetime tradition of giving back and provides the space for its members to start their own family legacy of philanthropic contributions in support of UNICEF. With all the right components, it will be exciting to see what additional returns on investment the U.S. Fund for UNICEF will see in the coming years.

About the Author

Cristina Gomez has a decade of non-profit experience both domestically and internationally. Her experience has spanned the sectors of education, healthcare, religion, and social services. She has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.