The Giving Tree: Generation Y / by Rachel Eva Lim

Why and how are millennials changing the way charities engage with potential donors? 

Much has been said about millennial spending habits. Baby boomers grumble that we don’t think twice before shelling out $4 for a latte and willingly splurge on travel. And Generation X members criticize us for prioritizing disposable income over future savings. We’re often labeled as “selfish,” “entitled,” and “self-absorbed.” 

It turns out that these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The Millennial Impact Report—an annual study conducted by the research group Achieve and backed by the Case Foundation—investigates how millennials engage with causes. Its 2015 report revealed that 84% of the over 2,500 millennial workers surveyed made a charitable donation in the previous year, while 70% spent at least an hour volunteering. “We study millennials because they will soon dominate our companies, organizations and communities,” the report states. “From their buying power to their handle on the limitless potential of social media, millennials can address issues and be a voice for causes like no other generation before them.”

Generation Y members are giving robustly, despite having to negotiate a far less favorable financial climate than our parents’ generation. And with a new generation of givers comes new ways of giving. 

The 2013 edition of the Millennial Impact Report concluded that millennials are far more likely to donate to a cause rather than an organization. Hence, giving requests that highlight specific problems that the organization is attempting to solve are likely to hold more sway than a mere regurgitation of one’s mission statement. Giving in response to a pressing need, rather than a faceless institution, makes us feel more emotionally involved. 

Furthermore, a recent Finger on the Pulse study by Horizon Media gathered that over 70% of millennials donate based on what they feel passionate about. Millennials have a plethora of different charitable causes to choose from, and we’re not satisfied with simply picking one at random. We’re selective, discerning givers who often donate based on our emotions, and we want to remain actively engaged in our investment after we’ve cut that check. 

Targeting millennial donors also necessitates adopting new methods of communication. The days of mailing a sum of money in an envelope are long gone. Instead, we’re the generation that lives on our phones and carries out much of our business online. Hence, an updated, richly interactive, and mobile-friendly digital platform puts charitable organizations in a prime position to solicit Generation Y dollars. It also helps if the website makes it easy for users to share content.

Indeed, perhaps the most crucial impact that millennials have had on charities is how social media is now an immensely powerful tool for donating. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report stated that 49% of millennials follow one to five non-profits on social media—a number that’s surely risen in the past two years. Giving is now a fundamentally social act, and millennials rely heavily on peer influence when it comes to making decisions about how and where to spend their money. Social media engagement has thus emerged as one of the top priorities of charitable organizations.

Perhaps no one has cracked the code to obtaining millennial donations better than Charity: Water, a non-profit foundation that provides safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Their “Donate Your Birthday” campaign, which encourages individuals to give up their birthdays in lieu of donations, is distinctly new media. Participants create online fundraising pages to solicit donations from their networks, and are rewarded with information, photos, and GPS coordinates regarding the exact projects they’ve funded.

It’s been said that, in this day and age, one should never underestimate the power of a share, like, or retweet. Charities that hope to attract millennial donors better catch on fast.

Commissioned by Ui CULTURE