Millennials: How Altruistic Are They?

I was invited to deliver a presentation on “Using Social Media to Connect with the Most Connected Generation” for the Association of Professional Fundraisers. My thinking was that this would be an easy topic, Social Media + Civic-minded Millennials = Golden Opportunity. It hasn’t turned out quite that way.

Sure, I knew from our research among young alumni of several colleges that getting them to part with money when they have so many other demands on their resources (college loans, mobile phone bills, lattes) isn’t easy. They tend to prefer causes that are close to home, emotionally and physically and they want to have a say about how the money should be used. Volunteer rates are sky high with 85% of high school students participating in volunteer activities. What I didn’t know is that they are notorious difficult to motivate to donate MONEY. Need evidence? Despite average incomes of $29K, only one-third of Millennials gave $100 or more to charity in 2008 (BLB, Yankelovich Monitor, 2008).

Online giving also appears to have its issues. Research by Target Analytics, a unit of software-provider Blackbaud says 58% of non-profits use the Internet for fundraising. Yet when it analyzed data for twelve organizations, they discovered people who go online to donate to a charity for the first time, such as after a disaster, often do not return to make additional gifts. Of those who do, 37 percent never made another gift via the Interne and instead favor other channels for giving.

An article in the Washington Post, “To Non-profits seeking cash, Facebook App Not So Green”, reported these discouraging facts about charitable giving on Facebook:

“More than 25 million of Facebook’s 200 million worldwide members have signed on as supporters of at least one cause, making it the third-most popular of the more than 52,000 applications on the site …

But just 185,000 members have ever contributed through the site.

The median gift through Causes is $25.

The majority of Causes’ participants have received no donations through the site.

Fewer than 50 of the 179,000 groups on Causes have raised $10,000


Despite this discouraging news, I think social media offers great promise for non-profits seeking to engage Gen Y in their cause. They grew up with the Internet and will expect social community features on non-profit web sites. Non-profits that develop strategies for engaging them now will have an important edge in the future, when they are less economically pressed and more willing to donate money. Meanwhile, organizations can use a social networking community to keep Millennials involved and encourage them to actively participate in other ways, which may even lead to cash down the road.

Tomorrow: Strategies for Using Social Media to Engage Millennials in Non-Profit Communities.