Philanthropy And Millennials: Get On Board Or Get Left Behind


By Trevor Neilson

In Time magazine's cover story "Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation" by Joel Stein, he argues that we should remain hopeful despite the abundance of data about just how lazy, entitled and narcissistic the new generation of young adults are.

I'm more than just hopeful. I believe that millennials have more power than any generation in modern history to drastically improve our world for the better. Yes, they care deeply about their image and what others think of them -- both online an in-person. But they also care deeply about our world: 61 percent of millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference.

Some might argue that while millennials do care, they lack the initiative or ambition to get anything done. Time magazine points out that the amount of people under 23 who aspire to have jobs with greater responsibility dropped from 80 percent to 60 percent over the past 10 years. I challenge those of us who roll our eyes at this to think first about how we define "responsibility." According to a 2012 study, 56 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to work somewhere that is changing the world for the better. Millennials aren't defining responsibility by how much they make or their job title, but by how much they can change the world in a positive way.

When it comes to spending money, millennials are very conscious about how the purchases they make impact the world. Ninety-three percent of millennial consumers say they would buy a product because of a cause association. Companies like TOMS, Warby Parker, Roozt and others have seen great success marketing to millennials, leading the way in cause-driven commerce. Not only are these brands benefitting from the halo of philanthropy, they are also able to introduce consumers to global issues and opportunities -- nearly 60 percent of Gen Y consumers credit companies with helping to educate them on issues. Millennials are bringing the worlds of business and philanthropy together like we've never seen before.

This generation, which cares deeply about bettering the world and will represent nearly half of the workforce in the year 2020, is also armed with the most advanced and rapidly improving technology we've ever encountered: social media.Ninety-three percent of millennials in the United States use a mobile phone and 84 percent of them use social media. It is not only their primary way to connect with friends and family, but also upending the method and speed in which we receive, share and act on information.

Seventy percent of people now report that they get their news from friends and family. When a natural disaster happens, one person can report on the situation or share how others can help an in a matter of hours millions become informed. New sites like RYOT.org are allowing readers to immediately take action when they read the news, donating to causes or sharing with their networks.

Crowdfunding sites have also benefitted from millennials' tendency toward interconnectedness and collaboration. Joel Stein may have given this generation a hard time about their tee-ball "participation trophies," but fundraisers should be thrilled. Millennials are used to working as a team, and thrive off of peer engagement and rewards for doing good.

For example, if they are appalled by the bullying of a bus driver, they can raise more than $703,000 to support her and launch a nationwide anti-bullying campaign. If they are pissed off by a frivolous lawsuit, they can instead raise more than $200,000 to support nonprofits with the tagline "I'm hoping that philanthropy trumps douchebaggery and greed." Take a look at the campaigns thriving on websites like Invested.in, or Gucci's innovative new CHIME FOR CHANGEcampaign. All of these platforms tap into millennials' desire to collaborate and achieve a common goal. Only this time around, instead of participation trophies, their achievements include helping build wells for clean water and fund scholarships for girls' education.

Millennials, motivated by their passion for bettering the world and their desire to be recognized and to be rewarded for doing so, will catalyze a revolution in both business and philanthropy. It's time for everyone in these sectors to embrace the potential of millennials, or get left behind.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post