Understanding the New Philanthropic Mindset of the Millennial Generation

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Targeting the more than 80 million millennials can seem like a daunting task, especially since they're so different from the generations before them, but there are ways to reach this educated, tech-savvy cohort - you just have to get creative...

For a division of our economy that is overly reliant on generating money from the aging Baby Boomer population, getting Millennials invested in nonprofits early is key to long-term sustainability. That’s why many charities are working to develop a more interactive, customizable and transparent giving experience for the new generation of philanthropists.

We know that today’s Millennials are mostly under employed, and that the average class of 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back a little more than $35,000, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in giving back. The key to connecting with this new generation of donors is to speak to them in ways they understand, and make donating and connecting with a cause more personal and local.

It’s no surprise that the 80 million people between the ages of 18 and 34 who are on the cusp of taking over the world think differently about charitable giving. It’s important to remember that this generation has grown up in a world that’s far more participatory and accessible, given the digital tools they have at their disposal. This means that any philanthropy without a smart, responsive digital platform will be left behind.

Additionally, it’s vital to understand that for Millennials, it’s about your cause, not your organization. They care about issues, not groups or institutions, and understanding that their motivation comes from a desire to affect their cause THROUGH your organization, not the other way around, is key to engaging this group.

In fact, you have to know that for the most part, Millennials aren’t as trusting as generations before them. That’s not to say that they won’t eventually trust your organization, but that trust is something to be earned, and there are a couple of ways to do that. Since we know how connected and engaged this group is, you had better count on them doing their research on sites like and Bright Funds, so making sure you demonstrate transparency in all things is key.

This generation is also far less likely to be content with only receiving an earnings report at the end of the year. They want to know where exactly their money went and what kind of impact it had. You’ll win over this generation much faster with transparent, clear and consistent communication than with a lengthy, annual report and a holiday card.    

Another important thing to note is that, for Millennials, it’s about making an investment, not a donation. They’re not just investing their capital, but they’re investing emotionally as well, and that dedication to a cause is not something to be overlooked. Millennials are in a unique position to impact your organization because although they may be more prone to making smaller, monthly donations than older generations who preferred a larger, one-time annual gift, these philanthropists have something else to offer – their voice.

When they donate, they are investing their personal brand, and standing behind your mission. By the very act of giving (and then bragging about that gift), Millennials are telling hundreds of their closest friends that your cause is worthy of their personal endorsement.

And that’s why this generation’s “narcissism” is the best thing to happen to charitable giving since Paypal. All you need to do to capitalize on this mentality is to give them a mechanism to immediately spread the word about their investment to their social networks. You also need to give them content they can share—like video, photos, and stories that tell of the great work your organization is doing with their investment.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: since most Millennials don’t own a checkbook or a roll of stamps, it’s imperative to make sure that giving to your organization is not only quick and easy, but mobile. According to The Next Generation of American Giving, a study released by Blackbaud last summer, 62% of Millennials made charitable contributions through mobile platforms. So, make sure they can support your cause both online and on the go.

Targeting Millennials is an investment in the future, not a means of immediately generating funds for your organization, so treating this group as such is important. Gen Y values relationships, they’re used to staying connected, but most importantly, they are loyal to causes that they’re passionate about. Stay in touch with this group of young philanthropists, inspire them to become agents of change for your organization, and you can reap big lifetime rewards from this generation.