I’m a millennial in my early 20s. This admission requires me to embrace certain stereotypes. I’m aware of what many people think when they hear the word Millennial: a coffee drinking, gluten “intolerant,” smartphone obsessed, young person who often seems entitled. I’ll happily lean into many of these stereotypes—while writing this article, I stopped to take a Buzzfeed quiz titled, “What % Millennial Stereotype Are You.” 69 percent, as it turns out. So, yes, I’ll admit there’s some truth to certain negative beliefs about Millennials, however, there’s one stereotype I simply won’t cop to—Millennials are selfish. My generation is more than a collection of self-absorbed, and tech-obsessed young people, and the research proves it.
Studies consistently show Millennials are eager to get involved, connect with others and motivated to give to causes we care about. My generation may seem entitled, but it’s only because we expect a lot. We have high expectations for the places we work at, the businesses we frequent and the nonprofits we contribute to. A 2014 study conducted by Achieve, in partnership with The Case Foundation, revealed that over 50% of Millennials were influenced to accept a job based on a company’s involvement in cause related work.
Digging trenches for a baboon enclosure at N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Windhoek, Namibia
So while I can’t speak for everyone in my generation, as an actual Millennial, I would like to tell you some of the reasons why I get involved in social justice issues.
I’m passionate about the cause.
Research has shown that Millennials are loyal to causes, not organizations. I can personally confirm this is true. I’m extremely passionate about wildlife conservation and, in the hopes of supporting this cause, I have signed my name to more than 20 online petitions, donated to at least 5 different organizations, shared plenty of literature on social media, and volunteered with nonprofits both locally and abroad. While I appreciate the work individual organizations do, I ultimately want to help protect wildlife. If multiple organizations are doing that, then why not donate to all of them? An impassioned and well-reasoned appeal from an organization working for a cause I care about will go a long way to get me to click “Donate.”
My community and peers are involved.
If my friends and/or coworkers are passionate about a cause, I’m much more likely to get involved myself. This behavior is not exclusive to Millennials, but research does show that 78% of my generation prefers to do cause work in groups rather than independently. When the same study surveyed Millennials at the workplace, it also found that we tend to like volunteering with people in our same department (62% of persons polled). This past election, I went canvassing for Hillary in Virginia with a group of friends. I don’t think I would have been as inclined to go out and talk about politics with strangers if my friends hadn’t been there with me. This is good news for nonprofits because it means, if you give Millennials an opportunity to volunteer, we’re not only going to show up, we’re also likely to bring our friends.
An organization has a strong online presence.
Much like any other Millennial, I spend a lot of time online. An organization needs to be active across different social media channels and also have an engaging website in order for me to consider contributing. A 2012 study revealed that 65% of Millennials prefer to learn about a nonprofit by visiting their website and 55% prefer social media. When it comes to donations, I prefer to contribute money online or on my phone rather than doing so in person because this allows me to conduct my own research through sources I personally trust. It is also far easier. Making online donations easy and streamlined should be a priority for nonprofits looking to attract Millennials.
Volunteering will give me the opportunity to apply my skills, or learn new ones.
If a volunteer experience contributes to a cause I care about and also happens to teach me some marketable skills along the way, then I’m more likely to want to be involved. Research shows that this sentiment is popular among my generation, with a 2011 study revealing that 75% of people were interested in volunteering due to professional development opportunities. In yet another study conducted in 2015, 77% of Millennials said they would be more likely to volunteer if they could use their expertise to help the cause. Nonprofits would be wise to encourage younger donors to get involved by hiring us for roles we tend to be good at (think social media) and offering training programs and opportunities to grow our skill set.
My donation gets me cool merch.
I don’t mean to say that I’m just showing up to score a free t-shirt. It’s just the opposite. If I’m looking at an item in a store and I’m told that part of the proceeds will go to support a great cause, I’ll be more inclined to buy it. Before the Women’s March on Washington, my friends and I went to The Outrage, a feminist pop-up shop in Adams Morgan and we bought “The Future is Female” t-shirts. 15% of The Outrage’s proceeds go to women’s empowerment organizations. A recent article by The Guardian explains this phenomenon. Brands are no longer using sex as a marketing tactic, they’re using activism instead and—no surprise—it’s working. Socially responsible brands may be doing it for selfish reasons but I, for one, am not complaining.
I’m upset about a blow to a cause I care about and want to do something to fix it.
This is something that has felt particularly relevant during and after the election. I have donated to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name at least 3 times since the election along with many other people (I highly recommend it, it’s pretty cathartic) and also participated in other forms of protest donations. I chose the nonprofits I donated to because they explained just how important my donation was in the current political climate. Many young people are looking for ways to make a contribution because they feel frustrated, too. Your nonprofit needs to tell Millennials how your organization is fighting back and how their contribution can help you do that.
Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign has written about Millennials and charitable giving on Care2 blog before but the question still stands—why should nonprofits invest in appealing to Millennials? The answer is simple: My generation is growing. Already at 75.4 million people, Millennials are expected to peak at 81.1 million in 2036. That is 3 million more people than baby boomers, or the so-called ‘largest generation.' Millennials are also helping to grow the economy, contributing $300 billion in annual spending to the US economy as of 2016. It seems that, for nonprofits looking to make the most of fundraising opportunities, allocating time and energy to figure out what makes Millennials tick, is a worthwhile investment.
So, now that you’ve heard from this Millennial, go out and ask some of the young people in your life what makes them want to get involved in social justice issues. Their answers may be the key to funding your next campaign.