Each generation in American history inevitably inherits a defining set of traits, characteristics and labels that not only identify them as a group but also separate them from the ones before. It isn’t surprising that many of these adjectives and phrases – usually coined by the previous generations – include some less-than-adulating terms. Millennials are no exception. Words like special, sheltered and overconfident have often been used to characterize those born roughly between 1980 and 2000. And it’s understandable, considering this generation was at the forefront of the youth-protection movement, due to events like Columbine – and the “everyone gets a trophy” phenomenon imposed by over-sensitive parents. However, no three words have been used more often than me, me and me to describe America’s largest and most ethnically diverse group that now comprises almost one third of the U.S population.
With a moniker like “the me, me, me generation,” it would make sense for fundraising professionals and nonprofits to focus on more promising prospects. After all, it’s the Baby Boomers who have proven over the years to be the most generous generation, but here’s where things become interesting: Millennials are the first generation to come of age with the Internet, cable TV and cell phones, and are the most educated generation to date, with 61% college educated – a significant increase from the Boomers who boasted 46%. Technology has not only provided them with instant gratification and access to information, but also invaluable tools, which they have utilized to create some of the world’s largest social media and content-sharing platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat) including revolutionary crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Millennials are the new fundraisers.
Peer to Peer
Kickstarter, which tracks its progress daily through analytics, has raised more than $1.5 billion for some 78,000 projects since its inception in 2009, and they aren’t the only game in town. Dozens more are following close behind, which may be proof enough that online, peer-to-peer fundraising is the new norm and it’s here to stay. Effectively tapping into the e-conscious world of Millennials, however, is a challenge for traditional organizations, and few have had success that rivals sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdrise. With a reality that is virtually driven, Millennials tend to place more trust in recommendations from Facebook friends and Instagram followers than in a ubiquitous organization, and are more likely to give to a cause when the group consensus is “yes.” Nonetheless, don’t forget the invitation – one that sounds more like “the pleasure of your company is requested” rather than a direct ask void of proper social-media etiquette.
Millennials certainly are not yet contributing charitably like their parents did, but organizations would do well to cultivate this technology-raised generation now by adapting to the new and virtual relationship-building paradigm they have unwittingly initiated. They not only have strength in numbers – at a projected 80 million they are twice the size of Generation X – but they also boast a potential sharing power unlike any other generation before them. Several reports, including one issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, suggest that by 2017, Millennials will spend some $200 billion annually and more than $10 trillion over the course of their lifetimes.
Slow and Steady
Though studies may show Millennials attend church less often and place less value on clocking in long hard hours at work each week, they are adventurous, passionate about the world around them and are more likely to be directly engaged with how and where they make charitable contributions, rather than letting their money go into an ambiguous black hole.
According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report by consulting firm Achieve, some 87 percent of Millennials donate to charity but drastically depart from their Boomer parents who trusted organizations like the United Way to disperse their donations as they saw fit. Millennials want to be in charge and discover causes on their own, followed by a slow and steady climb to a solid connection, which typically involves small and deliberate actions like volunteering time or spreading the word before a monetary gift is offered. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, one of the most successful viral fundraising campaigns to date, provides the perfect case study for Millennial engagement in the 21st century. Though they may not have participated with monetary contributions, Millennials’ craving for a connection to the world at large and their desire to be part of a greater good resulted in significantly helping spread the message and advance the mission.
It’s Got to be (Virtually) Real
Call it a paradox, but Millennials prefer a personal connection to their cause of choice through the channel in which they are most familiar and comfortable: the Internet. In contrast to direct relationship development, a key component of Baby Boomer philanthropy, Millennials prefer to demonstrate support for a cause in real time and often on impulse. But skip the theatrics. The Sally Struthers starving-children approach won’t work with these wunderkinds. Genuine and authentic messages strike a real chord with these worldly souls. Beyond personal satisfaction, Millennials want to feel and know they are making a difference – now. They’re more likely to give if they relate to a specific project through a compelling, online experience that offers them a personal challenge they can measure and track, and where amounts as small as $25 can help provide anything from clean drinking water to micro-loans for women.
With the oldest members of their generation now approaching peak earning years, Millennials are breaking down old philanthropic archetypes and replacing them with new ones that are intricately intertwined with technology, collaboration and cooperation – with an emphasis on accountability. Giving is an optional act of generosity; asking for support should be genuine and transparent and one that involves both the giver and the receiver.
Regardless of labels, every generation offers invaluable insight. Millennials have done more for society than introducing the “selfie.” They have pushed the boundaries of self-awareness and caused a chain reaction that requires more than just blind faith. Part and parcel of the Millennial giving process includes proof, and those organizations willing to play by Millennial rules are likely to build relationships that truly have the potential to change the world, generation after generation.
Vicki Brannock is a senior director with Brandman University’s School of Extended Education. Brannock has been consulting with nonprofit organizations for more than 15 years and serves on several nonprofit boards. At Brandman, Brannock leads the school’s nonprofit management program, which helps professionals gain skills needed to lead today’s nonprofit organizations. Brandman University’s School of Extended Education focuses on individual and workforce career development for adult learners, offering degree programs, workshops, seminars, certificate programs, leadership modules and programming leading to certification and academic credit, with on-site, online and hybrid training programs for workforces across industries. https://www.brandman.edu/academic-programs/extended-education https://twitter.com/vickibrannock
This article is reprinted from Issue #4 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!
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