How Millennials Do Philanthropy

Source: Mikeymikez / Flickr

Millennials aren’t nearly as selfish or entitled as some in the media would make them out to be, and less you have any lingering doubts on Gen Y’s generosity, there’s a new report out that backs this up.

Released annually by the Case Foundation, the Millennial Impact Report looks at philanthropic trends among individuals born between 1979 and 1994. With a sample size of 2,665, this year’s report found that 83% of Millennials made a financial donation to at least one nonprofit in 2012, which puts their giving on levels comparable to American households on a whole. Where Millennials really shined, though, was in their high levels of volunteerism. 73% of Millennials surveyed say they gave their time to a nonprofit organization in the past year, almost triple the rate of volunteerism among the greater American population.

And, despite their modest donation sizes–most millennials gave between $1 to $50 at a time–52% of Millennials said they were interested in monthly giving, and 70% said they were willing to fundraise for causes they care about. Development officers reading these figures should be jumping at the chance to engage a new generation of donors who are open to sustained funding and becoming an organization’s evangelists.

This is where the Millennial Impact Report can also act as a marketing handbook of sorts to nonprofits looking to develop their Gen Y engagement strategies. While some of the report’s recommendations, like building mobile-friendly websites and simplifying the online giving process, are standard fare and reflect a broader pivot towards a more digitized world, a number of their findings are worth underscoring. Namely, that Millennials care more about causes than they do about organizations:

“Millennials aren’t interested in structures, institutions, and organizations, but rather in the people they help and the issues they support. The key for nonprofits, therefore, is to build a comprehensive Millennial engagement platform that invites them to participate in the cause and maximize their involvement.”

At the very least, this means getting on the same channels of communications as Millennials. While a website is often the first of point of engagement where Millennials go to find out more about an organization, it’s social media that converts passive consumers of information into active donors and evangelists.

75% of Millennials say they like, share, or retweet content from nonprofit organizations whose values they see aligning with their own. As such, an organization’s content strategy should be optimized for sharing — think compelling images and minimal text, with a greater focus on concrete stories about beneficiaries and program impact than the organization itself. Millennials are also more likely to stay connected to a nonprofit when they see that an organization can speak about its causes in a broader social context, rather than on a narrow scope of interests alone.

Nonprofits with a greater commitment to stewarding Gen Y donors will go beyond communications to creating actual pathways for Millennials to play deeper roles in an organization. Consider the top three motivations cited by Millennials for getting involved in an organization: passion, networking, and a chance to build skills and expertise. Nonprofits should capitalize on Milennials’ willingness to get involved and design volunteer experiences that combine passion with career and personal development opportunities. The report recommends developing a “continuum of volunteer engagement” that starts with supporting activism, develops into the formation of nonprofit professional groups, and hopefully blossoms into ongoing leadership.

Millennials are ready and willing to take up the helm of philanthropy; what’s needed next is an invitation of support from nonprofits.

About the Author

DSC_7053 final_smallAnh is the communications and development coordinator at Vietnam Health, Education & Literature Projects (VNHELP), a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Vietnam’s poor.  Prior to her current position, Anh worked with Give2Asia in the business development department to research and develop material for Vietnamese American and corporate philanthropy. She also served as managing for Vietnam Talking Points (part of OneVietnam Network), where she wrote about Asian American identity and culture.