09/16/2014 04:58 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

How Millennials Are Redefining What It Means to Give

How do you effectively compare generations who have grown up in different worlds?

This question was raised by Derrick Feldmann, lead researcher of The 2014 Millennial Impact Report. The Baby Boomers' worldview was defined by events like Watergate and the Vietnam War. On the other hand, Millennials, more than 80 million strong, have grown up in a world defined by digital innovation, 9/11, economic uncertainty and globalization. Naturally, this has led to a generational difference in lifestyles, goals and, especially, giving. Whereas Millennials, described as the "Me Me Me Generation," have been called everything from lazy to selfish, it turns out there may simply be a difference in how they approach charitable giving, not in how they value giving itself. When it comes to Millennials and philanthropy, money may not matter most.

Not surprisingly, Generation X and Baby Boomers are giving more dollars annually to charities and non-profit organizations than Millennials, a reflection of their extended time in the workforce and the number of underemployed Millennials today. But this doesn't mean Millennials aren't doing their fair share -- they're simply redefining the way they give, preferring to be more hands on by donating their time and talent to causes they support. Through social media and word of mouth promotion via text messaging, Millennials are giving back to their favorite causes and supporting something larger than themselves in their own unique way.

For example, take 16-year-old Gracie Schram, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter based in Leawood, Kansas. At the age of 10, Schram recorded and self-released a six-song CD to benefit underprivileged children in Haiti and Africa after seeing photos on the news that documented the plight of orphans in Africa.

"At the time, I was only ten and I saw pictures of kids who were only eight or nine with a baby on their hip. I thought, 'How hard would it be if I had to take care of my brother and my sister without my parents, without a house, without clean water, and living in these awful conditions?'" says Schram. "I felt like I needed to do something to help and it was my responsibility to take action."

And she did. Her Showers from God CD went on to raise more than $30,000 for The Global Orphan Project by the time she was 12, kicking off Schram's life-long commitment to making a difference through her music. Schram, and other young women like her, are currently part of a grant recipient program from my company, UChic, that provides scholarships to help girls access experiences that shape dreams, careers and lives. It's our hope that more young women will get the opportunity to make the same kind of impact that Schram has made in changing our world for the better.

According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, Millennials are most likely to get hands-on with causes they care about when organizations offer a range of volunteer opportunities, from one-time commitments to long-term, pro-bono skills-based opportunities. However, don't expect them to give their time and talents blindly. They have high expectations in terms of transparency and impact. They want, and need, to know how much their efforts are making a difference. For nonprofits and businesses looking to attract Millennial support, the key is to build a system that encourages them to participate and co-create while clearly showcasing the impact of their contributions.

The state of philanthropic giving in the U.S. is changing. Philanthropy and business are integrating, and in 2020, Millennials will represent nearly half of the workforce. The full impact of Millennials' new wave of charitable giving may take years to fully realize, but this group of connectors and innovators should not be underestimated or ignored. If Gracie Schram is any indication, it won't be a matter of if Millennials will give, but how. And, knowing the passion that these young people have for causes they support, we should all brace ourselves for the impact.