Millennials Aren't Millionaires, But We're Great Philanthropists

With no shortage of generation-bashing these days, twentysomethings might be feeling a bit jaded by articles and pundits framing them as “narcissistic,” “materialistic,” and “cheap.” The media and other generations seem to have a lot to say about how millennials spend their time and money, and the intentions behind those actions and purchases.

But the reality is that this generation is redefining the way we think about business. Conscious consumerism is now its own form of philanthropy, and this generation is leading the charge in supporting for-profit models with a moral compass, and looking for more meaningful opportunities to have impact. This carries particular implications for the nonprofit sector as millennials lead the way in increasing the do-gooder appetite and reinventing how we spend our time and money. 

If you have purchased a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parker sunglasses, donated to your friends’ Kickstarter campaigns, or even went to a concert that benefited charity, then I believe that you are a philanthropist. Etymologically, “philanthropy” means “love for humanity,” and for many that translates into anyone who gives time, money, skills, networking, or even passion toward a cause. This is something the millennial generation inherently weaves into life through our everyday choices. In effect, we are mainstreaming sustainability and purpose into everything from our concert venues to our dining out for a cause. 

For the third year in a row, the Case Foundation partnered with Achieve, a creative fundraising firm and thought leader on nonprofit millennial engagement, to produce the Millennial Impact Report, which surveyed more than 2,500 millennials ages 20 to 35.

We found that 83 percent of respondents gave a financial gift to a cause in 2012. And one of the most interesting findings from the 2013 report is that millennials are cause-driven, preferring to give toward a specific cause that resonates with their interests over writing a check to a specific organization as a whole. Seventy-three percent volunteered for a cause that they were passionate about or felt created impact, and 70 percent of millennials are hitting the (physical and virtual) “pavement,” raising money for their causes both online and offline. Achieve highlights this “supportive activism” as its own heralding cry against the threatening “slacktivist” legacy that many other generations believe millennials are leaving behind.

The report revealed that 80 percent of millennials read nonprofits’ e-mail newsletters, but we like to do it through our smartphones. We will also only read up to five organizations’ newsletters at a given time. This is tough news for nonprofits that need to adjust to the rising demand for quality and ease of information sharing, both through new technology and effective messaging.

Young donors also expressed dislike for being asked for money upfront via social media, newsletters, or through an organization’s website, feeling as though they can offer more to an organization than just money. And as much as millennials want to give, they also need to receive — always searching for professional development opportunities, networking, and skills that can help propel their own successful battle through a tough job market.

Our generation has lived through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and the Arab Spring (to name only a few major historical events). The rise of mobile technologies, increased communication, and lighting speed-tweeting prowess has transformed us from standby witnesses to active participants in the world’s current challenges. As a result, we are a socially minded group, tuned in to the issues of our day and primed to give back.

This week, the Millennial Impact Conference will explore these very topics, including the challenges and opportunities nonprofits face to engage and utilize these new “cause evangelists.” Livestreamed for free, the conference will showcase entrepreneurs, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and social activists like Sophia Bush and Jose Antonio Vargas who will weigh in on how and why to connect with the millennial generation. We hope you’ll join us to learn more on July 18.