News and analysis
June 16, 2014

Lifestyles, Attitudes, and Technology Are Shaping Millennials’ Giving

Instant access to information and a migration away from institutional affiliations are shaping how members of the millennial generation engage with philanthropic causes, according to experts who spoke at the annual meeting of the Council on Foundations.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, individuals born in the 1980s and 1990s aren’t necessarily maintaining life-long relationships with churches and community organizations. And they are more likely to change employers many times over a lifetime.

"So the network of peers they take with them, that is going to be more influential," said panelist Katherina Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. "That means a more fragmented market. We don’t have the luxury necessarily of just targeting this institution and all of its affiliated community."

Other speakers on the June 9 panelincluded Wendy Harman, director of information management and situational awareness at the American Red Cross, and Derrick Feldmann, president of market research firm Achieve.

Achieve, in partnership with the Case Foundation, is scheduled to release this week a comprehensive report on employment trends among millennials, including their involvement in employers’ social responsibility and cause-related work.

Millennials mirror previous generations in their desire to work together and create change, Ms. Rosqueta says, but the difference is the new tools and technology they have to assess an organization’s work.

"They have information to inform their decisions like no other generation has had before," she said.

That same technology is allowing them to connect with each other, accelerating the spread of information and increasing the influence of peer networks, she said. Ms. Rosqueta also said more people are purchasing products from and investing money in companies whose policies align with their values.

"The ecosystem has changed in a way where there really are fewer barriers between the use of philanthropic funds via grant, the use of funds to support what you care about through checking out the company that you are purchasing products from, and the rise of impact investing," Ms. Rosqueta said.

Ms. Harman, of the Red Cross, says that her organization has already reworked its business plan to accommodate shifting attitudes about giving and volunteering. She describes the new role of the nonprofit as being a facilitator of "frictionless opportunities" to contribute to a specific goal.

"The American Red Cross has a lot of brand equity," she said, "but even we run into that idea of ‘I don’t want to do this as part of that huge bureaucratic institution. I want to make these impacts after a disaster or in my community on my own.’ "

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