Meet the Millennials

Meet the millennials.

Actually, you already have. They’re the generation born from 1979 to 1990. If you’re not one of them, then you probably have at least a few in your life.

They may be young, but some comprehensive reports and studies that have done a deep dive on millennials show they must be taken seriously by philanthropies and nonprofits.

Already, there are signs millennials are shaping future giving trends and altering how nonprofits operate. While the amounts they give are still smaller than what their parents donate, that’s poised to change as an unprecedented wave of money stands to be inherited in the coming decades.

The most comprehensive look at this generation and the causes that attract them has come from Achieve and the Case Foundation, which has been conducting the Millennial Impact Project over the last five years. Despite the fact that millennials represent just 11 percent of U.S. giving, they are 32.8 million strong. Their preferences are poised to become the norm for all donors, the project found, and they are consistent in their desire to see their time and money translate into how people are helped. Simply put, they want their contributions to achieve actual results for a cause.

Not surprisingly, the project found the way millennials interact with nonprofits is more impulsive and immediate than preceding generations. That means organizations must be prepared to prove their relevance to millennials, who want to work with a cause rather than for the organization itself. There’s an upside for nonprofits that fulfill this mission. Millennials who form long-term volunteer relationships tend to give more and encourage friends and family to follow suit.

Even, as the latest Giving USA report pointed out, millennials give less than their Baby Boomer parents and the preceding Generation X, this is a generation still making its way up the income ladder.  That’s all the more important given the latest iteration of the Millennial Impact Study. It focused on the workplace and found that 88 percent of millennial employees donated to a nonprofit in 2013 and gave larger donations than in previous years. About 28 percent reported making gifts of $100 to $500.

Those numbers add up. There are as many millennials as there are Boomers, and there are many more of them than Gen Xers. Given that millennials are poised to inherit $40 TRILLION, much of which will be donated to charity, the time is now to cultivate these high-capacity, young donors.

Keep in mind, though, that will be anything but easy. That may be especially the case for organizations with a religious affiliation or whose mission is tied to a religion’s values, if a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year is any guide. It found millennials are:

  • Relatively unattached to organized politics or religion. Indeed, 29 percent claim no affiliation with any religion, among the highest levels of any generation in the last 25 years.
  • Less likely to believe in G-d.
  • The first in the modern era to have higher levels of college debt and poverty, and lower levels of wealth and income than the two preceding generations.

At the same time, however, one-third of older millennials have  a four-year degree. That makes them the best-educated cohort of young adults in American history.

No doubt, this is a generation with challenges. But all indications are that nonprofits that learn how to surmount those hurdles and engage with millennials on their own terms put themselves in the best position to remain relevant and ensure their survival in the years and decades to come.