Millennials are known for selfies, Snapchat filters, reality television and — charitable donations? Yes, the generation with a reputation for self-centeredness and instant gratification apparently also exhibits philanthropic tendencies.
In light of the holiday season — and with Giving Tuesday (the annual post-Cyber Monday day of charity) just about a week away — we took a look at how and why millennials like to give.
Millennial giving for good
Derrick Feldmann is the lead researcher for the Millennial Impact Project and author of “Social Movements for Good.” He says millennials (those ages 18 to 34 in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center) like to give and are empowered by empathy. They particularly get behind social causes.
And while generations past have certainly felt the same sort of empathetic tug and have reached into their pockets to give, millennial giving is set apart by new technology and online methods for giving. “Going about wanting to get involved is still the same, it just happens to be the method and the transaction that’s different,” Feldmann says.
Millennials like to transact with nonprofits in the same way they do with for-profits, Feldmann says. They want to act immediately, whether it’s a one-click order at Amazon or an online donation at the United Way. And they don’t necessarily always give to institutions. They sometimes give directly to people or crowdfunding campaigns, for instance.
Online and mobile giving options are used more frequently by millennials than other giving channels, like direct mail, according to Steve MacLaughlin, vice president of data and analytics at Blackbaud, a cloud software company that has researched American giving at length.
Still, while millennials make up the largest population group in the U.S., they make up just 10.5% of the donative population, MacLaughlin says. He reasons that the lower level of participation is a reflection of the life stage millennials are in.
But despite not being in their top earning years, millennials have carved their own charitable niche. They show a greater likelihood to give to children’s charities, human rights organizations and international development causes than other generations do, MacLaughlin says. They also have a higher preference for retail giving and workplace giving.
“When we look at retail giving, that’s checkout giving or giving where a portion of the proceeds from a particular product or particular company is going to charity,” MacLaughlin says. “You’re seeing them gravitate towards those. In some ways that might balance out the fact that they may not be giving as much as boomers or the silent generation, but when they’re presented with the opportunity of giving as part of their retail behavior, consumer behavior or workplace behavior, they’re choosing to give through those mechanisms.”
In fact, more than 9 in 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause, according to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study.
Eyewear company Warby Parker says it partners with nonprofits like VisionSpring to distribute a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair of glasses it sells, according to the business’s website. Shoe retailer Toms is known for its “one for one” campaign, in which it promises to help a person in need for every product that is purchased.
“I think more so than other generations there’s a positive response to those types of brands where social good is part of the corporate philosophy and the way they do business,” MacLaughlin says.
There will be plenty of opportunities for this spirit of giving to express itself this holiday season, from volunteering and charity races to philanthropic retail offerings.
At The Body Shop, for every specially selected holiday gift that’s purchased this holiday season, the retailer says it will help restore one square meter of rainforest to protect endangered creatures. At Hollister, for each winter coat sold in its stores across the United States and online from Nov. 29 through Dec. 13, the retailer promises a new Operation Warm coat will be donated to a child in need, up to 10,000 coats.
These types of new takes on traditional giving could be right up millennials’ alley. After all, Feldmann says, “Millennials treat every asset that they have as equal, so the asset of time, the asset of skill, the asset of their social network and the asset of money.”
Millennials may choose to contribute any one of these assets for Giving Tuesday, a global day of charity that takes place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to counteract the spending that happens on Black Friday. This year, the fifth installment will be Nov. 29.
Participants can take part by donating directly to their charity of choice, volunteering their time or shopping with retailers that give back. Last year, Old Navy pledged to donate 1% of customers’ total spending made with an Old Navy (or other Gap Inc. brand) credit card on Giving Tuesday (up to $75,000).
Beyond just millennials, Blackbaud predicts record-breaking Giving Tuesday donations this year.
While millennials aren’t the most donative generation, MacLaughlin thinks they have a promising charitable outlook, and retailers and nonprofits would be wise to take notice of their habits.
“I think when we look at the data we see some really encouraging signs around millennials continuing to increase their involvement in the social good sector,” he says. “I think what we would expect over time is for them to increase their engagement, volunteering and giving.”
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