Here at GuideStar, we have the saying no numbers without stories, no stories without numbers. Staying true to this motto, I’d like to shed some light on the statistics presented in the Millennial Impact Report Retrospective: Five Years of Trends by drawing upon my own life story—as a millennial and as an employee in the nonprofit sector.
Released in November 2016 by Achieve, in partnership with the Case Foundation, the Impact Report contains five years’ worth of research on the attitudes toward philanthropy and giving of persons born between 1980 and 2001. Researchers interviewed more than 25,000 millennials, 500 companies, and 2,000 organizations. They used baseline surveys, participant interviews, focus groups, user testing, and behavior tracking to inform their conclusions.
A quick disclaimer: I should note that in some ways, I’m not a typical millennial. I can’t recall what my first tweet was. In fact, I can’t even find it. (But I do remember the ex-NFL offensive linebacker who taught me about Twitter.) I have shocked my co-workers by revealing that I only recently downloaded Venmo, roughly two weeks ago. And my friends have called me a “grandma” at times, particularly when I whip out my paper copy of the Wall Street Journal.
Still, I believe there may be some value in seeing what one out of one millennial thinks about this report.
Common Finding #1
Intrinsic passion for a cause is what inspires millennials to act charitably. However, others can cultivate philanthropic behavior using key extrinsic motivators.
This is certainly true in my case. Ever since I was just a tiny human, I have cared for animals. Not just taking care of animals, but wanting to have a connection with them, almost as if they were human, too. It started with my stuffed animals and quickly spread to shelter cats and ponies at summer camp. This passion has not waivered as I’ve grown older. I’ve volunteered at cat shelters wherever I move and still have every motivation to call animal control if I catch even a glimpse of a slightly skinny horse found grazing alongside the highway.
Likewise, I’ve also seen how external factors can motivate millennials to be more philanthropic. I was an intern once at a software company in San Francisco. When it was time for the annual food drive, I schlepped bags full of canned goods to the office. And when I learned we had a volunteer group, I immediately joined the next event, where we worked at a soup kitchen.
Common Finding #2
The majority of millennials volunteered and gave charitably in modest amounts to multiple nonprofits.
I very much agree. Three out of five of the nonprofits that I consistently donate to are the cat shelters that I’ve volunteered with. Of the remaining two nonprofits, one is the college radio station that I was a late-night comedy host for and the second is an educational program my family engages with regularly.
While I certainly follow this charitable trend, I have a slight difference in opinion with regards to how the report connects volunteering and donating. The report states that millennials need a sense of trust for those they are donating to and are likely to volunteer AFTER they have donated. My logic is different. What better way to get to know the organization than by volunteering for it?
Note #1: While I was scooping poop out of cat cages, most of my friends were playing sports. This desire to volunteer didn’t extend to them quite as much as it did to me. Also, my mom didn’t make me play soccer.
Note #2: Getting into college is a tough business. I know several millennials who volunteered just to put it on their résumés and get into an Ivy League school, mostly to appease their parents. The trend continues for grad school.
Common Finding #3
Female millennials give more financial support than males, and older millennials give more financial support than younger ones. In addition, larger donations correlate with more volunteer hours in all segments.
Although I can’t offer hard numbers about female versus male giving, I can say that, of all of my friends, the ones most involved with nonprofits at this time are (drum roll, please) ... women. Does this translate to larger amounts donated? I can’t tell you, because I don’t ask my friends about their finances. Just their opinions on Game of Thrones.
It’s also true that as I grow older, my financial gifts to nonprofits increase. When I was in high school, I worried about paying to see the latest Scary Movie. Now that I’m a real adult (okay, maybe not a real adult) and have an income, I no longer worry about buying movie tickets AND am able to contribute more to the causes that I care deeply about.
And I do give larger chunks of my money to the nonprofits I’ve spent the most time with. The ones I haven’t volunteered with are tiny green blips on my donation radar.
Common Finding #4
Peer-to-peer engagement, including that which occurs in the workplace, is a critical influence on and vehicle through which millennials charitably give and volunteer.
This is accurate. Continuing the discussion from Finding #1, external motivators, such as friends and co-workers, can be very strong forces for giving and volunteering. I have—on several occasions—convinced my friends to volunteer with me (at cat shelters, of course).
In addition, the report mentions that millennials are more likely to volunteer or donate if their work department encourages it. I have found that I go above and beyond with volunteering, especially when my colleagues are involved. For example, when I was at the software company, getting out of the usual office setting and serving hot meals at a soup kitchen was a much better bonding experience than simply sending emails back and forth.
Common Finding #5
Opportunities to use and develop skills and areas of expertise are prime motivators in millennials’ philanthropic engagement.
AGREED. In fact, this is what drove me to GuideStar. I needed a purpose in life, something that was more than just typing at a keyboard and more than copy writing, comma by comma. I needed my words to be worth more than profits. I wanted them to speak louder than a one-page spreadsheet would allow.
If you’re a recruiter, you’ve probably had to cater to this millennial need. We no longer want just work. We want worth. And we want to see the impact our worth makes on the world around us.
*Note: Lack of Jobs as a Factor. When I was about to graduate from college, all of my parents’ friends bestowed the same cheerful warning upon me. “Good luck finding a job!” they mercilessly repeated. That’s why most of us millennials have been encouraged to volunteer, especially if we can’t find work. We end up developing our strengths through volunteering. But for many of us, the desire to volunteer remains, even when we do find work.
Common Finding #6
Millennials primarily use digital technology (websites, social media, mobile platforms, applications) to access information about and donate to causes and nonprofits, yet each platform plays a distinct role.
Recall the intro of this blog post. I’m bad at being a stereotypical millennial. That said, I do use websites to learn about (and eventually donate to) nonprofits. But that’s it. I don’t really use social media and when I do, it’s to keep in touch with my friends who are now spread out across the country (and the globe).
As for my friends? Yes, they certainly use social media. Whether it’s a political statement or sharing a blog post about the latest and greatest such and such cause area, you can bet it’ll be on their Facebook news feed or Twitter timeline.
I leave you with three closing thoughts:
- The Impact Report states that millennials are becoming more active with greater awareness. I agree, and I guarantee this trend will continue.
- Nonprofits should use social media to engage with millennials. Even though I’m not on social media as much as my peers, I still get most of my daily news from Facebook and whatever my friends happen to be posting (cute puppies, #NODAPL, etc.). Remember that Kony 2012 campaign and its aftermath? The majority of kids in my college dorm bought those bracelets, all because of a video they saw online.
- Last, and certainly not least, millennials are trying to be authentic. We want genuine experiences that leave us feeling fulfilled.
Madeline Kardos is a marketing communications associate at GuideStar. When she isn't helping nonprofits update their GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles, she writes for GuideStar's top-rated blog. Follow GuideStar on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date on the latest nonprofit sector news.