Millennials and Philanthropy

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The Millennial generation has begun to redefine philanthropy as they bring many unique approaches to the many needs of the world. Rather than simply donating cash as a way of alleviating nagging guilt at the problems of the world, Millennials are creating sustainable solutions to move problems into new directions. How Millennials define charity and philanthropy reveal the dynamic nature of their character and is helping to redefine generational stereotypes about Millennials. The value of real emotional investment, time, and creative solutions is being moved to a forefront position to support the effect of money in Millennial philanthropy. 

Redefining Philanthropy

The youth of today truly care about the problems of the world, in part because they are inheriting them. This may be why so many Millennials make giving a part of their daily lives, unwilling to submit to a bleak future without effort. As a result, a hefty 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70 percent spent at least an hour volunteering, according to the Millennial Impact Report by research group Achieve, which surveyed more than 2,500 millennial employees and managers. And considering millennials are a cash-strapped group with overwhelming amounts of student debt that says a lot. (Dowdy)

However, the most transformational aspect of Millennial philanthropy is not financial, but how money is used creatively. The concept of philanthropy is in part defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes” (Project Millennial). Millennials appear to give until it hurts a bit, as research has found that, on average, millennials give an annual gift of $481, according to Blackbaud's Next Generation of American Giving report. And they prefer donating to children's charities more than any other cause, followed by places of worship and health-related causes. (Dowdy)

Research finds that Millennials give on impulse, on principle, and also based on the currents of social media frenzy. This was seen in 204’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. As a result of this movement, “’No one intended to give to ALS last year…but it became the event of the summer thanks to ‘peer influence as very effective marketing,’…During a six-week period, the ALS Association raised a whopping $115 million” (Dowdy). This is a result of the new culture of the Internet which allows for sweeping social movements with large results. New generations of non-profits must have a strong online presence to maximize this reality, lest they miss out on this newly valued demographic, as; being tech savvy helps, too. Millennials give through charity apps, email blasts and text messaging — 62 percent gave via mobile phone last year, according to the Blackbaud report. The one-touch donating capability makes it easier for the younger generation to give…often donating about $25 a pop. (Dowdy)

Creative Means of Giving

Beyond the simply act of donating money, time, creativity, care, and passion are the new forms of giving. First of these new applications of philanthropy is knowledge. Millennials are in part defined by the emergence of the Internet, and it has been through the Internet that the new means of philanthropy has been expressed and organized. Knowledge can become power through the correct application, and the Internet offers the means of enlarging this base of power. This is expressed as; through applied knowledge, we can learn to fail and learn to succeed. Because of the wisdom delivered from past generations, Millennials understand this concept of “applied knowledge is definite power” better than any other generation from the past (and at a younger age as well). (Project Millennial)

This is seen as Millennials share their ideas, the inventions, the success, and their failures through the Internet. This creates an even larger pool of knowledge and information to draw on, and creates a more effective philanthropy. For example, the information that Peta was euthanizing 95 percent of its charges as standard practice would have had more difficulty becoming well known without the spreading power of the Internet. This leads to greater accountability as knowledge spreads faster. 

Many Millennials who engage first hand with philanthropy encounter the public perception of mistrust towards charities and nonprofits that is not unfounded. Many regions of the world with systemic issues have seen such groups come and go, collecting their grants and donations without making any lasting change. In response to this, Millennials often get engaged and make the changes regions need. This was the case with Scott Harrison, who started Charity: Water after traveling through Liberia and being confronted by the water crisis. Harrison’s effort digs wells to establish clean drinking water links for the many regions which have suffered water loss and pollution. Harrison emphasizes, “We’re also really trying to reinvent charity, reinvent the way people think about giving, the way that they give” (Hu). Research has found that Millennials want to feel more invested in a cause than simply giving money, and once they feel invested money comes more easily. This transformational approach is helping to re-stock the philanthropic culture with people ready for the real cost of change. 

Time for Change

Thus, Millennials give of their time, which they have more of than money, and give of their emotional resonance. Bringing a new application to the needs of the day, “With this value in mind, Millennials understand the power of time and how, what and to whom it is contributed. There's an old saying, ‘time is money,’ which is certainly one perspective of time. But here’s another: ‘Time is value’” (Project Millennial).” The power of caring is in response to the easy indifference which is the dark side of the ease of technology. Some Millennials are responding to this with increased activism, while others allow themselves to slip into indifference or distraction. 

Investing their time, Millennials are utilizing their creative DIY skills to make an impact on the issues they care about, as the act of making carries strong emotional resonance. As such, millennials are “spending” their skills, and that is what makes them unique. Millennials understand the value of creativity and innovation because these values are what so many of us bring to the table, and we are starting to inject this creative currency into what some people are calling the Cause Economy. (Spence)

The Cause Economy has arisen out of the real need for many causes to be addressed, and is not only a market for creating change, but for spreading applied knowledge. The Cause Economy is nourished when people buy local, supporting sustainable cycles of commerce. It is also enlivened when consumers refuse to support corporations who engage in human and environmental rights violations (Walmart, Nike, British Petrolum).  Some inspiring examples of this are:

Because International 1

Dell Social Innovation Challenge 2

Hack for Change 3

Engineers Without Borders 4


THON is a dance marathon that Millennials started to raise money and awareness for children with cancer via the Hershey Medical Center's Four Diamonds Fund. THON is “Said to be the largest student philanthropic enterprise in the world, THON has raised more than $41 million over its 34 years of existence” (Gordon). This effort is so popular that not all of the Millennials who wish to participate can, due to lack of space and resources. THON “culminates in a non-stop, no-sleep, two-day affair of dancing, games, and celebration for 700 selected dancers, most of whom are seniors being honored for their dedication to the cause” (Gordon). Donating and supporting youth and illness have become a major theme for Millennials who are experiencing unprecedented rates of illness. 

The Psychology of Giving

Investigating the motivations for Millennial philanthropy, researchers postulate that this generation is reacting to the perceived self-centered focus of their parents, the Baby Boom generation, who now aging have left their children with a cascade of problems (Gordon). Hoping not to pass on these problems to their children, this generation is banding together creatively to stop indifference, self-serving, and narcissism which would only lead to them being isolated and alone in their old age. This has led to new investigations of the new affluenza; this new affluenza research together with an panic about client retention has created a perfect storm to unite the finance industry and the youth philanthropy movement. Can we prevent affluenza through empathy education? Could such education inspire a new culture of giving and change philanthropy as we know it? (Greenman and Wittkamper 3)

The answer appears to be yes, and integral to this movement is the competition involved in college. The Millennials have had to compete for college acceptance like no other generation before them, and “It’s drilled into many high-school students' minds that volunteering and contributing to the community looks good on a college application. College students are told that civic experience can boost their résumés” (Gordon). However, this may pale in comparison to the fact that many Millennials stand to inherit the wealth their Baby Boomer parents spent a lifetime creating. However, new studies reveal “wealth may isolate people, foster a sense of entitlement and lead to unscrupulous behavior” (Greenman and Wittkamper 3). Rather than fall into the perceived pit falls of their parents for whom having money did not satisfy, many Millennials give freely in the desire to be connected to creating a more positive future for themselves (Leven). 


The Millennial generation is apparently unwilling to write off the potentials of their future, and are becoming engaged at increased rates. Their approach is both pragmatic and passionate, and the foundations they lay have the potential to make positive inroads for everyone’s future.


1: Because International has created shoes which grow with a person, enabling the 300 million children around the globe who do not have shoes to have lasting protection for their feet. 

2: Dell Social Innovation Challenge offers entrepreneurship competitions to increase engagement and social responsibility. 

3: This is a hack-a-thon for web developers and designers.

4: Engineers Without Borders meets basic human needs going unmet around the world with creativity and intelligence.

Works Cited

Dowdy, Landon. “Millennials are more generous than you think.” CNBC, 8 Dec. 2015. Retrieved from:

Gordon, Julie. “Millennials on a Mission.” Business Week, 15 Feb. 2007. Retrieved from:

Greenman, Katie, and Jonah Wittkamper. Born to Give: A Human Approach to Catalyzing Philanthropy. [White Paper]. Nexus Youth Summit, 2015. Retrieved from:

Hu, Elise. “How Millennials Are Reshaping Charity And Online Giving.” NPR, 13 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from:

Leven, Becky. “Millennial Generation: Strategies to Engage and Communicate in the Philanthropic World.” E Jewish Philanthropy, 9 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from:

Project Millennial. “4 Ways Millennials Redefine The Idea Of Philanthropy.” Elite Daily, 10 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from:\

Spence, Courtney. “Creativity Is the Currency, Nay, Philanthropy of Our Generation.” The Huffington Post, 10 Jun. 2013. Retrieved from: