News and analysis
June 24, 2015

Millennials Respond Better to Peers Than to Bosses When Asked to Give, Study Says

Peer-to-peer encouragement is key to boosting participation in workplace charity efforts among millennials, according to a new study.

Nearly half of the young people surveyed for the 2015 Millennial Impact Report said they were likely to donate if a coworker asked them to, while only a fifth said they’d probably do so at the request of their companies’ chief executives. Sixty-five percent of millennials said they were more likely to volunteer if their coworkers participated, while 44 percent said they were more likely to if their supervisor participated.

Appealing to the charitable instincts of millennials — people born from 1980 to 2000 — is of increasing interest to organizations because of the generation’s interest in doing good, said Derrick Feldmann, president of the consulting firm Achieve, which released the report today. "More and more companies are taking stances on social issues and community building because their employees are asking them to," Mr. Feldmann said.

Prizes and Time Off

The report’s findings on young employees’ giving and volunteering behavior and attitudes are based on responses from 1,584 millennial employees and 1,004 managers nationwide.

Eighty-four percent of the survey respondents made a charitable donation in 2014, but only 22 percent of those gave because of a work solicitation. To get more young people to direct their giving through work (and therefore associate their passion for supporting causes with their jobs), the study found that competitions and incentives such as recognition, prizes, and time off were strong motivators. So was the opportunity to use personal expertise: About 77 percent of millennials said they were more likely to volunteer if they could use their skills to benefit a cause.

While piquing millennials’ interest in workplace charity programs is a good start, those strategies won’t necessarily sustain their participation, Mr. Feldmann said. The longer employees have been at a company, the less competitions and other people influenced their behavior.

A personal connection to a cause and the perception that efforts make a real difference may be the most important factors influencing whether young people participate in a sustained way, the study found.

That makes sense to workplace consultant Jamie Notter, co-author of When Millennials Take Over, who sees customization and flexibility as key.

"I’m a little nervous about ‘Quick, let’s promote our corporate social-responsibility stuff so we can attract millennials,’ " he said. "That’s a very marketing-based approach to hiring."

Instead, he suggests that it might be more effective for companies to give employees time and resources to pursue their own philanthropic interests through forums such as paid days off to volunteer or setting aside a portion of the work week to devote to projects of personal interest.

For nonprofits, the study imparts two lessons about how to attract millennials’ support, said Jean Case, chief executive of the Case Foundation, which sponsored the research. The first is to make sure an organization’s mission matches a young person’s passions before chasing his or her support. The second is to encourage millennials to spread the word about causes to their friends.

Send an e-mail to Rebecca Koenig.