Millennials and Philanthropy

Jul 6, 2015 | Management and Leadership, Philanthropy Journal, Resources

Millennials currently make up more than one third of today's workforce and are increasingly important to the nonprofit sector as current and future volunteers and donors.

The Millennial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged – with potentially seismic consequences for America.   – Howe and Strauss from “Millennials Rising” Maragaret L Headshot

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Margaret Linnane

There is an optimistic and growing body of research indicating a trend of strong commitment to philanthropic activism among young people born between the early 1980’s and 2000’s. Known as Millennials, they currently make up more than one third of today’s workforce and are increasingly important to the nonprofit sector as current and future volunteers and donors.

Millennials have embraced the technology age; in fact, it is all they have ever known. With their technological orientation, all information is a click away. The world is a click away. Given this reality, it stands to reason that Millennials engage in social media as a way of life. They spend significant hours socializing online, conducting personal research on issues and questions of interest to them. They post, pin, blog, tweet, video and message. Online is where they get their news, share gossip, express their views and opinions, influence music, engage in politics, and even join revolutions. Their community is the world and through their online experience they have found a significant feeling of freedom of expression and belonging.

Crummer LogoThey have at their fingertips a way to communicate with people everywhere. How then can nonprofits advance their causes and missions resulting in full engagement of this burgeoning generation that has so much to give? How can nonprofits prepare to pass the torch on to future leaders?  Joanie Connell, author of Flying Without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life, points out that “compared to other generations, Millennials tend to be more collaborative, are accustomed to working in teams and have a passion for pressure.” Nonprofits must meet Millennials where they are.

When it comes to engaging with a nonprofit as a volunteer, Millennials often do so in steps:

  1. They learn about a project from a friend, or through reading or surfing social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
  2. They “like it,” then “share it” and continue to note and be conscious of the nonprofit and its mission.
  3. They respond to an online request for a small, targeted gift, one they know is impactful.
  4. They become an ambassador for the organization through tweeting and retweeting, “talking” it up and consequently attending events (with the added perk of bringing friends!).
  5. They join an advisory committee and apply their time, energy and resources on the planning and execution of projects and fundraisers.

Relationships have always been and continue to be the basis for donations.  When friends ask friends to support a cause they care deeply about, there is a higher likelihood of a gift. They influence and inspire each other with their thinking and active involvement. This is especially so with Millennials.

Millennials will also tell you they are team-oriented. They like to work on projects through to an effective end and see the impact of their efforts. They are pumped by positive outcomes. Being involved in a team dynamic highly motivates them. Repetitive work and ongoing assignments will not keep them engaged. Experiential projects keep Millennials coming back – and with their friends!

Unlike generations before them, Millennials are impulse givers, in part due to the ease of donating online. A quick request in the right price range elicits a quick response, especially if the impact of the gift is immediate. Text messaging has proven to be an effective medium to vote for their next American Idol as well as for Online giving, Millennials value impact.

They want to influence their world in meaningful ways. They crave feeling connected in their involvement. They seek ownership, membership, influence and belonging. Like it is for most ages, waiting is difficult; they like to see a quick return on their investment of time, energy and money. Nonprofits would do well to take the time to articulate and demonstrate impact. Concluding advice for nonprofits:

  • FOCUS on Millennials.
  • ASK them for their help in identifying strategies that will engage their peers; make it a project with realizable goals!
  • TRUST their perspectives on how to best reach this promising generation of leaders, creators, team members and donors.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE their efforts, their connection to the mission.

Margaret Linnane came to the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business with 18 years of nonprofit experience as the executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. She has extensive experience in resource development, program and fiscal management and community outreach, and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for Florida Nonprofit Alliance, the statewide association formed to provide a collective voice for nonprofits at the local, state and federal levels. Linnane holds a B.A. from Rollins College and an MBA from the Crummer Graduate School, where she now serves as the executive director of its Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership.

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