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Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP) is a nonprofit with more than 6,000 members and is one of the Philadelphia’s leading organizations for young people. YIP strives to make Philadelphia the premier city for the next generation of young leaders by engaging, connecting and representing the young demographic (roughly 22 – 35, but all are welcome) through several different platforms. Recently Fairmount spoke with Kelly Cofrancisco, Programming Chair of Young Involved Philadelphia, about why YIP has developed such a strong community and advice for nonprofits seeking to do the same.

Community Nonprofits

When you hear the word “community” what does it mean to you?

Kelly: I think it means a place where you can go and feel comfortable. You feel like you can go to that community if you have an issue. Community can mean a lot of different things, like an online community or a religious community. But overall I think it means a place where you belong and that supports you.

How did YIP build such a strong community?

Kelly: In general YIP really tries to listen to the people it serves. One of the things we were hearing is people wanted a way to plug-in and get involved. One of the things we have been conscious about is not only bringing partners in when we can, but also having strong and steady programming. People really want an instant and clear path of ways to get involved.

Internally we have committee meetings and give people tasks to voice their opinion. On the partner side we have been able to collaborate with other organizations through our events. A big one is State of Young Philly (SOYP). A lot of SOYP events used to be organized solely by YIP and YIP would also handle the logistics. But last year we created an RFP that opened the process to the local community. We asked organizations what the most important issues in their community were and we got a big response. I think this has opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve also built a strong community internally by seeking opinions outside of the board. While we have a great board, they don’t represent every person or viewpoint. So we tap into other sub-groups to get more perspectives.

There’s a recent Washington Post article that essentially expresses surprise that Millennials are giving more time and dollars than expected. Why do you think Millennials are so willing to give and how can nonprofits take advantage of that willingness?

Kelly: I’ve read similar articles. Millennials want to support companies and brands who give back. Tom’s is a great example of doing good while making a profit. You can also see it in B Corporations and the triple bottom line. Millennials are starting companies and nonprofits of their own and are looking for ways to give back. A lot of us are brought up with community service projects. And as more people go to schools that have community outreach, it’s sort of engrained. Millennials do like to give back but they don’t want to give to just anything. So nonprofits need to tie a giving opportunity into their core mission, ideally if it’s something Millennials would do regularly, like shopping, because it makes giving easier. I think that what has pushed this is that you have shopping and e-commerce and it’s easier to take on donations. Now giving on social media apps and online commerce has made it easier to donate. Millennials realize you don’t have to be a giant philanthropist to give. They think ‘my $10 or $20 can help’ and that’s changed the way people give. Nonprofits shouldn’t brush off smaller donations but think of it as a way to build Millennials into their giving pipeline, and maybe over time the giving will increase.

Initiatives like the State of Young Philly involves collaboration among different organizations, nonprofits, and stakeholders, but it comes together in a cohesive way. Why is YIP successful in marshaling those different stakeholders together?

Kelly:  It’s a lot of work. I think we just continue to build on the process that we established for SOYP. Each year it grows in attendance and media coverage. The reason it grows is because we have grown the partnerships and the partners involved. Logistically a lot of it is on the front end. We tell partners what we need and when we need it. We set up a communications timeline and overall it’s really about keeping people on the same page and having a clear communications strategy. We use a lot of Google docs to keep everyone updated. I think just keeping an open attitude and being accessible to our partners so that they know they can reach us at any time makes a big difference.

What advice do you have for nonprofits seeking to energize young(er) people like Millennials?

Kelly: I think the simplest thing is to talk to your audience. Like how in the for-profit sector they say ‘know your customer.’ So if you are launching a young friends program or another similar initiative, look at what else is in the marketplace that’s being offered. But also try to speak the language of the group you are trying to reach. It’s all about how you’re perceived. I think it’s one thing to say that ‘Millennials are on social media, so go on Facebook or Twitter.’ But that may not be what they want. Overall I think YIP has been successful in programming because we bounce a lot of ideas off people. We never want to create an event or program that other people don’t want. So it’s sort of that focus group mentality. Nonprofits should really analyze the characteristics of Millennials. There are many social studies about how they behave and the causes they care about.

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Get involved with YIP’s 6th annual State of Young Philly, this year running October 16 through October 24. Corporate sponsorship and nonprofit partnership opportunities are available.

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