Why We Need Millennials—How Generation Y is Redefining Philanthropy

Why We Need Millennials—Lazar Finker

In a recent article of mine, I wrote about how, in 2016, millennials proved that they can have a significant impact on the philanthropy sector. Now, I’d like to delve a little more into this generation, what drives them, and why they have become a valuable asset to the nation.

The term “millennial”—used to define anybody born between 1980 and 2000—is often the subject of derision. Frequently characterized as lazy or oversensitive, studying their giving habits has revealed a much more complex truth. As individuals attuned to recent technology trends, millennials have forced nonprofits to reconsider how they reach out to potential donors. The diversity of social media platforms has given organizations more ways to reach their audience, but has also given them more concerns about how to construe their message.

This is because studies have found that millennials seek a certain authenticity when it comes to causes to support. They don’t just want to give for the sake of giving—they want to be emotionally invested in the charities that they donate to.

Nonprofits will have to adapt their message with consideration to a new generation of givers and realize that it’s not about being trendy—it’s about being passionate about a cause and being willing to engage with both the people they’re supporting and those supporting them.

Millennials, often of modest financial status, are able to give less, but the majority are more than willing to volunteer portions of their time and money to help causes that they feel invested in. In many ways, charity work is tied intrinsically to social activism, the latter reflecting the generation’s desire to affect change in the world.

Indeed, millennial philanthropy is often marked by social connections. The cynical among older generations might argue that sharing charity efforts is done for the sole purpose of gaining attention, but I’d like to believe that the social aspect of charity galvanizes more individuals to action.

For the first time in 2016, an organization attempted to learn about millennial charity habits from their point of view rather than that of nonprofit organizations. Achieve, a research agency, and Case Foundation, an innovative philanthropy foundation, partnered to study the generation’s behaviors.

What they found was that millennials are more inclined to change jobs, relationships, and lifestyles more than their older counterparts. Whether this is positive or negative is up for debate, but the organizations also discovered that this fluidity also encourages dedication to a multitude of causes, regardless of how they got involved with them.

So what does this mean for the future of philanthropy?

It means that nonprofit organizations will need to be more visibly active in communities if they want to gain donors. Technology is, as always, a growing vector for micro-donations, and can enable millennial contribution with a minimal amount of effort.

The connectivity afforded by social media reveals many causes all competing for attention. Oddly enough, this forces nonprofits to improve their branding and marketing if they want to stay afloat, a seemingly disingenuous prospect that can nevertheless lead to a positive outcome.

So, like it or not, the future of our country is in the hands of millennials and, all things considered, I’m not too worried about it. Like the causes that they champion, they strive for authenticity and forward progress, and bring an ardent passion to everything that they do.