THE BLOG
09/25/2014 02:18 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Millennials and Giving

Currently, in the United States, there are 80 million Millennials -- generally those born between 1980 and the early 2000s. Collectively they spend about $300 billion annually on consumer discretionary goods. Despite the prevalent generalization that defines this generation as self-centered, coddled and entitled, this simply is not the case -- at least when it comes to charitable giving. Millennials do give -- and give generously -- but their ways and levels of engaging in philanthropy differ from previous generations.

According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, which surveyed more than 1,500 employed millennials, 87 percent had donated money toward a nonprofit in the last year, with the majority of that percentage giving more than $100. Considering that Millennials have been living in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression and many are struggling to pay back student loans, this fact seems quite remarkable.

And, it is not just money they are donating. Millennials are generous with their time, talent and expertise as well, with 47 percent of those surveyed saying they serve as volunteers for causes that support issues and help other people, rather than institutions. Additionally, 57 percent say they want to see more company-wide volunteer opportunities through their employers.

So why does this generation give so freely of its time and money? Some might say that a global shift in social responsibility influenced the Millennial generation. The 1980s brought to prominence a host of public issues that specifically affect younger people and future generations such as environmental sustainability and global health concerns, along with other critical issues that incite passion and commitment because they touch all of our lives.

Another reason is the relative ease of making donations. A generation of digital natives inherently understands that donating is always possible thanks to mobile phones and tablets. Online giving has never been more popular - particularly in the aftermath of a major catastrophic event. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the total number of groups raising money online grew by 20 percent in 2012.

Social media also provides the ability to share news instantly about altruism with a like-minded network. According to a 2013 study released by Blackbaud, a non-profit technology provider, 62 percent of the Millennials surveyed said they give through mobile platforms and tended to learn about charities via their peers. The ALS ice bucket challenge offers both qualitative and quantitative proof that Millennials are more likely to support a cause when members of their personal network do the same. The ALS challenge, as has been widely reported, began as a Facebook post and grew into an international phenomenon that has raised more than $100 million and inspired more than 2.5 million first-time donors to support ALS research.

The information overload that comes with our technology-focused society also influences giving, according to the Blackbaud study. Previous generations tended to donate to the same charity once a year and what they knew about the organization came from the annual report and occasional news story. Millennials have constant access to information about philanthropy, including opportunities to help worthy causes. And, unlike previous generations, these young donors are also looking for more transparency in their philanthropic efforts and want to know exactly how their contributions will improve lives and make a difference. The Blackbaud study revealed that 57 percent of those surveyed reported a desire to directly see the impact of their donation, attributed partly to the success of new crowd funding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

By the year 2020, Millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce. We have read a lot about how their consumer habits will change the market and their work preferences will transform the office. Likewise, they will be a powerful force in charitable giving, and the numbers show that they aren't waiting to make their fortunes to support good causes. The social sector should begin to adapt now.

elpis (www.elpis.org.gr) is a consulting company focused on helping philanthropists, donors, and foundations develop and implement sustainable, efficient programs that build capacity, and bring together like-minded entities to solve social and economic problems. Primarily focused on issues in Greece, Southern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East, elpis works with leading organizations around the world.