Young adults do charity their way

August 1, 2013 

My friends and I are not slackers, but recently we have been called self-absorbed, needy, narcissistic "slacktivists." One study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that, compared to the previous two generations, millennials are less interested in donating to charities, participating in civic engagement, or helping the environment.

Millennials — all 80 million of us — are decidedly misunderstood. We are, in fact, a high-potential, passionate and skilled group of future leaders poised to transform the way that the world considers social impact. Millennials are chipping away at the conventional definition of what it means to be a truly engaged citizen, or importantly, what it means to be a "philanthropist." Our parents might think we spend too much time with our noses in our phones, but what they don't know is that we just might be making a real difference — and doing it our own way. Millennials are rewriting the rules for philanthropy as we go, tapping into a different skill set that includes digital fluency, creativity, and passion.

I connect with partners every day that use Facebook to engage with supporters, build communities, and inspire advocacy. When the conversation turns to millennials, the same few themes emerge:

• Millennials are hungry to identify with a cause.

• Millennials support issues, not institutions — and they need to see the difference they are making.

• Millennials give small but think big when it comes to giving.

Reaching millennials where we spend our time is critical. The Millennial Donor Report revealed that millennials are motivated to give by a compelling mission, a personal connection, and an endorsement by a friend or peer. This generation is moved to support causes in uniquely hands-on ways. Seventy-three percent of millennials volunteered for a nonprofit organization last year, with more than three-quarters of volunteers reporting that they gave of their time because they were personally passionate about the cause or issue.

DoSomething.org is one organization with an innovative approach focused on offering millennials a personal connection, inspiring options, and the freedom of choice. Through the nonprofit's newest campaign launched just a few weeks ago, "The Hunt" offers "11 days of 11 kick-ass ways to make a change in (one's) community." Each day, teams are offered the chance to tackle a new set of challenges that benefit a different worthwhile cause. Participants can follow along on the DoSomething Facebook page to discover the work that other teams or solo do-gooders are doing in their own communities.

This kind of discovery is an important part of the way millennials connect with issues. Often called the "first generation raised on the Internet," the millennial cohort frequently uses a mobile device to learn about nonprofits or individuals doing good in the world. Millennials are eager to see inspiring stories of change, replacing the formerly nameless, faceless masses with a real sense of humanity. Kirby Trapolino, the founder of Peace Gospel, found a way to bring his work to life through Instagram while tackling some of the most important issues in the developing world. By sharing beautiful images and moving stories featuring real people, Kirby makes real global impact discoverable for people that live thousands of miles away. Kirby's followers, in turn, share personal stories on his posts about their own volunteering missions. Many commenters leave messages on Kirby's photos simply asking how they can help.

When millennials ask how to get involved, most of us are not yet making the biggest donations but are sharing contributions widely with friends and family. Last year, 83 percent of millennials made a financial gift to an institution. Though the majority of those gifts were $100 or less per organization, 15 percent of millennials gave gifts of over $500 to individual nonprofits. Many millennial givers reported that they "gave in the moment," in immediate response to an emotional reaction, with online giving taking the top spot as the preferred method of giving.

And millennials are increasingly giving back with a little help from their friends. 70 percent of millennials have raised money on behalf of a nonprofit, encouraging friends and family to give back with them. The 2013 millennial Impact Report, released by Achieve and the Case Foundation just days ago, confirms the notion that when it comes to giving, millennials are focused on making a tangible impact and donating to something that matters. Whether they are giving as an individual or crowdsourcing philanthropic dollars in their communities, millennials want to know that their gifts will have an impact.

Millennials are the largest generation since the baby boomers. When it comes to philanthropy, we are breaking the mold by hitting the pavement — virtually and literally. We are using our vast networks of friends to connect with the causes that we care about in arguably more personal ways than ever before, using platforms that did not even exist five or 10 years ago to organize, raise awareness, and raise funds. Hackathons for social good are the telethons of our generation — except we now have the power to build products that can actually scale. We are a generation of problem-solvers, eager to dedicate our skills and collective creativity to provide innovative solutions to the world's trickiest problems, big or small.

Armed with passion, and the desire to see our tangible impact, millennials are redefining what it means to give back. Pay close attention to this generation of slacktivists — we just might surprise you.

Leffler, a 2002 graduate of Modesto High School and 2006 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, is strategic partner manager at Facebook, where she focuses on high-impact integrations with influencers, elected officials, media organizations and nonprofits on Facebook and Instagram. This article originally appeared in Forbes and was done as part of Leffler's participation in the Skoll World Forum.

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