12/21/2012 10:51 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

The Changing Face of Philanthropy

"People wait until late in their careers to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?" ~ Mark Zuckerberg

Philanthropy, an industry long dominated by the elder generations, is getting a younger face. Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, and George Soros do incredible work, but it's time for the millennials to share the spotlight. By now you've already heard about Mark Zuckerberg's sizeable contribution to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, approximately $500 million worth of Facebook stock. It's a remarkable Gift from one of Silicon Valley's wealthiest and most influential figures. At 28 years old, the youngest signatory of the Giving Pledge is making philanthropy something for all of us to 'Like'.

Since its inception, the Giving Pledge has attracted 92 members with a combined net worth of over $400 billion and a median age of 70. Only 12 people are under 50 and just two of them are under the age of 35 -- the original Facebook friends, Dustin Moskovitz and Mark Zuckerberg. This isn't shocking; in fact, it's consistent with ages of those working in the philanthropic sector. According to the 2011 Grantmakers Salary and Benefits Report, only 10 percent of the surveyed foundation staff members were under 30.

But as the millennial generation matures, we're taking our place among the idealists of our predecessors. While most millennials haven't worked long enough to amass the same financial or experiential wealth of our parents and grandparents, we're still driven toward change. The Millennial Impact Report, a study published earlier this year, found that 75 percent of millennial respondents made a financial gift to at least one nonprofit organization last year and 63 percent volunteered their time. When asked about their expected participation in 2012, 87 percent said they would likely support at least as many organizations as they did in 2011; and 41 percent planned to increase their volunteer time. These volunteers and donors needed only the opportunity to be involved.

Anyone who can gift $500 million is sure to make headlines and honestly, few of us could even hope to match or even comprehend Zuckerberg's wealth. But it's not the size of his gift that's so inspiring; it's the example that he sets for the rest of our generation. It's the philanthropic rallying cry for all of us to give back now and over the course of our lives, not just at the end of our careers.

So, to the nonprofits and foundations out there: don't overlook the time, treasure, or talent of the millennial generation. We're not all (nay, quite few!) billionaires and we don't have decades of experience, but that doesn't mean we can't play a role in your organization's success. We've shirked the shackles of 'slacktivism' and are already making a difference in our world. Connect with us. Help us become better donors, better leaders, and better volunteers.

And to the millennials reading this post, find a cause you care about this holiday season and donate what you can afford -- $5, $10, or pledge your time as a volunteer. Whatever you do, start now. Don't make this your one-time New Year's resolution; make it a part of your everyday. It's never too early to become a philanthropist and you'll never be too old to make a difference.