Stereotypes Aside: Millennials Locally, Nationally Are Acting for Change

10/19/2017 01:31 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2017

by Derrick Feldmann

President, Achieve | Founder, Millennial Impact Project

Why is breaking down a stereotype about today’s young adults nearly impossible?

Millennials (born 1980-2000) have been tarred by the same brush for quite a while now: Apathetic. Self-centered. Not politically active. And no matter what data someone presents to the contrary, stereotypes refuse to bend.

But they need to. As you’ll see, new data collected for the 2017 Millennial Impact Report prove not only millennials’ passionate concern for others, but the unique form of activism they’re engaged in to effect societal change.

In partnership with the Case Foundation, Achieve just published findings from the most recent research phase of this project (themillennialimpact.com), which is our ninth annual study of millennial cause behaviors and motivations. What we found should shatter remaining stereotypes about this too-hastily judged generation.

Almost 65 percent of millennials in our sample reported voting in the 2016 presidential election. That’s a higher percentage than that of eligible voters within the U.S. population who voted (Pew Research Institute). Civil rights/racial discrimination (reported by 29% of the sample) supplanted education and employment/wages as the top issues of concern among this generation since last year. And although social media ranked in the top five among the cause-related actions our respondents said they typically took, it dropped significantly when they reported which of their actions they believed were most likely to bring about change (9%, compared to 21% for voting).

If you thought you understood millennials, we invite you to think again.

Involvement belies apathy

In this second of three research phases, 3,000 study participants from across the country shared their political and cause-related perceptions and behaviors from July 2016 to July 2017. In an impressive statistic, this group reported performing 13,000 actions during that time related to causes and social issues they cared about.

I cannot believe such activity fits a stereotype of apathy. Nonprofits and governmental entities should take note that today, this generation is involved – and effectively directing their powerful voices for good.

Old meets new activism

The majority of these active millennials still look to government and established organizations to address the causes/social issues they care about. We see evidence of millennials’ belief in these longstanding institutions through the high frequency of such actions as voting, contacting political representatives, and creating and signing petitions.

At the same time, the first generation to grow up with digital outlets for their voices is turning them into megaphones for good. Millennials have melded tried-and-true activist methods with social media – organizing, driving awareness and influencing others’ behavior with a rapidity and to a degree that surpasses even the biggest philanthropist.

We already are seeing changes in our country that can be tied to increased cause engagement through combined activism methods. With the Women’s March in January 2017, we saw an example of how quickly passionate millennials with social media networks can organize groups, get to the nation’s capital and cities across the country, and start a national dialogue.

Hope and trust

Millennials still do have some trust in government, as evidenced by their behavior. However, they don’t put their future solely in its hands. In our research, more than half of millennials believed in the power of their own actions and of organizations they support to create change. They use all tools available to them – whether traditional or new – to influence the issues and causes they care about. As such, it is plausible that respondents believe institutions and individuals could and should work in tandem to improve their issues of interest.

What does this mean for causes and nonprofits today and in the next 10 years?

I cannot stress this enough: Even the most well-funded causes need an army behind them equipped with a powerful voice of concern. No cause is immune to today’s challenges and waning interests. Organizations must ask themselves, Do we have the people and structure in place to use the voice of this generation for good?

As a cause and civic leader, are you willing to energize this generation of movement makers with new opportunities for expression and activism? Or will your nonprofit, company and cause simply wait until millennials have the financial resources to be traditional donors – and give up the power and influence this generation is building today?

Download our latest research at themillennialimpact.com.

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