Millennials and the Reshaping of Charity and Online Giving

Print Share on LinkedIn More


October 13, 2014; NPR

George Norlin, president of the University of Colorado, once said, “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” By extension, his words instruct us to listen actively to build an understanding of the innovative perspectives of Millennial Generation and their collective wisdom. Indeed, the nonprofit or philanthropic organization that knows only its own generation foregoes opportunities and risks becoming obsolete and irrelevant. An organization that fails to engage and learn with millennials can be committing a failure in business judgment.

The Nonprofit Quarterly has been reporting on the social impact and continuing traction of a tech-enabled and action-oriented Millennial Generation. The reach of millennials was described in “An Interview with Jean Case on the 2013 Millennial Impact Report” through encouraging data and trends of the changing landscape of charity and volunteerism. NPQ next offered analysis of “Millennial Givers and a ‘Movement’ Approach to Giving,” reviewing growing efforts and trends through the lens of the 2014 Millennial Impact Report.

This newswire examines emerging insights and business models generating the success of this millennial givers movement. The transition from a nonprofit concept, vision and development-to-market is revealed in “How Millennials Are Reshaping Charity and Online Giving.” Scott Harrison, millennial founder of Charity: Water, has a model that promotes a classic call to action through new media with laser focus messaging. His platform reveals a keen awareness of building a capacity for connection with internal and external stakeholders. He indicated, “We’re also really trying to reinvent charity, reinvent the way people think about giving, the way that they give.” The mission of Charity: Water is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.

Harrison’s recipe for organizational nonprofit success includes leadership from the Millennial Generation—individuals born between the years 1981 and 2000; their current age (as of 2014) is 14 to 33 years old. The characteristics of the Millennial Generation (citing Millennials Go to College (2003) by Neil Howe and William Strauss) identify them as team-oriented, achieving, pressured, conventional and pressured. Millennials are digital natives; they are the first generation to be born into technology and are totally dependent on it.

Continuing coverage of this topic by NPQ reveals the progress of an ongoing Millennial Revolution reshaping charity with daily advances championed by them. It is a not so gentle reminder of today’s disruptive nonprofit environment. The outcomes of this movement are evidenced by achievement of social good leveraged by Internet.

The 2014 Millennial Impact Report refers to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of April 2014, there were approximately 14 million 20- to 24-year-olds and almost 32 million 25- to 34-year-olds employed in the United States. Millennials have placed a lasting imprint on nonprofit operations by their generational characteristics and worldview. They are “The Newest Generation,” with an action-based philosophy that is changing charity as we know it. This is consistent with findings of a summary report, “The Millennial Impact Project,” sponsored by the Case Foundation.

  1. Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not institutions.
  2. Millennials are influenced by the decisions and behaviors of their peers.
  3. Millennials treat their time, money, and assets as having equal value.
  4. Millennials need to experience the cause’s work without having to be on-site.

Millennial contributions are not limited only to monetary donations. Instead, millennials choose to have a different user experience with the entity by personal investment in the charity or cause. No longer comfortable writing a “one and done” check, millennial involvement exists in different virtual and face-to-face social worlds. Achievement in these new social worlds requires a smart digital platform. The platform brings a new form of dedicated participation to causes in which they feel a call to action and a personal connection.

Moving forward, Millennials will continue to disrupt charity, philanthropy, and online giving. According to The Foundation Center,

The Millennial Generation currently has $200 billion in direct purchasing power and is expected to become the beneficiaries of a $41 trillion transfer of wealth from older generations. As the generation matures and more Millennials enter the work force full-time, their ability to contribute philanthropically to society will grow.

The Pew Research Center, in “The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” suggested, “Generations, like people, have personalities.” Further, as digital natives, they apply digital and online tools to raise not only awareness, but also funds. They use their emotional and social media currency to alert others of causes that resonate with them. Like a ripple through still water, they are brand ambassadors and fundraisers that energize groups and individuals encountered in the virtual and face-to-face worlds.

As I wrote earlier, an organization that fails to engage and learn with millennials can be committing a failure in business judgment.—Steven N. Pyser