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The Millennial Giver

The philanthropic landscape is changing thanks in a large part to millennials, a group of aspirationals expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Contrary to their baby boomer predecessors, millennials look beyond the annual tax-deductible donation in favor of opportunities to give year-round. Millennials actively participate in giving, rely on technology and online platforms when donating and expect to see the direct impact of their contribution. This “generous generation” considers social responsibility to be a part of their every-day lives and is redefining purpose in the process.

Millennials seek out ways to affect change by giving both time and energy to causes that matter, rather than relying solely on fiscal contributions. Millennials want to participate in the process of giving. They organize art exhibitions and food drives, volunteer in underprivileged schools, work to address issues like climate change, global poverty and child literacy, run a mile to help girls get an education or walk a 5K to fund breast cancer research. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report found that “doing good has become a social activity, and millennials participate in these activities to make a memory.” In fact, in 2014 62% of millennials surveyed said they prefer to volunteer with people in their department, compared to 39% who prefer to volunteer with people they don’t work with daily. Additionally, 78% of millennials prefer performing work in groups, versus 22% of millennials who prefer to volunteer independently. Millennials congregate around a common purpose to simultaneously affect change, engage with peers and be a part of the “giving back” process.

Technology and the “app economy” has also helped create an entirely new generation of businesses, employees and givers. We can choose from millions of social innovations at our fingertips (many of them free), and download them directly to our phones in less than a minute. In 2015, 62% of millennials gave via mobile phone and online donations grew by 9.2% overall. A generation trademarked by efficiency and convenience, many millennials now expect to give online. Tied to the rise of technology, the majority of millennial giving is “impulse based,” or in response to an emotional reaction. The media has an enormous influence on this response, providing 24-hour news coverage accessible via the nearly ubiquitous smartphone. Current events are recorded and videos are constantly going viral. More often than not these videos tap into the emotional side of users, inciting them to take action. Tools like GoFundMe, the Facebook “donate” button and capitalize on the emotional response, offering one click features that satisfy the need to affect change immediately and give to a personal cause. Successful brand strategies combine the millennial desire for giving with the convenience of rapidly evolving technology.

Although millennial giving may be impulsive, this generation still expects to see their donations’ impact. Millennial donations differ from that of the average “baby boomer,” a generation that relies on their experience and history of giving when deciding how to support an organization. “Baby boomers” typically make donations to charities they have known for years or organizations they belong to like churches, or synagogues. It is a yearly donation they trust, can depend on and do not plan on increasing or decreasing. In contrast, millennials present a generation of new givers with the potential to increase donations and become sustainable givers in the future. Millennials are not satisfied by writing a check-- they want to be involved. 57% of millennials want to see the impact of their donation, compared to less than half of Gen-X. Millennials want to share the success on social media, include friends in future events and understand how the organizations they support are going to help others.

Additionally, the way to earn a donor’s trust is changing. Social platforms have become the millennial’s most honest and authentic news source and organizations must rely on these platforms to earn consumers’ trust. With the growth of social media, any individual can be an investigative journalist and Twitter users often post news before mainstream media. Millennials trust this user-generated content 50% more than other media sources and nearly 84% of millennials do not trust traditional advertising. Mass media falls flat with most millennials who turn to their friends on social media first as their most trusted sources of information. Millennials grew up in a “liking economy;” making their decisions based on peer endorsements versus a professional journalist’s report.

As a generation, millennials inherited the ’08 financial crisis, overcame 9/11, and are currently in a war that has hate and racial bias at its core. Social issues surround daily life. Millennials feel a responsibility to make up for the shortcomings of government and big business to affect change and have a positive social impact. As the nation’s largest living generation, millennial buying power combined with their influence on social media gives this generation incredible potential to raise awareness and spread cause-driven messages for issues that matter. Millennials are creating a new era of philanthropy that propels purpose-driven work in innovative ways and will continue to shape the future of giving and social impact.


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