Millennials and Nonprofits: Four Reasons Why You Have It All Wrong

Comedian Adam Conover, in a presentation to marketing professionals summed up well the issue of trying to define millennials—or any generation—with this: “Generations are usually just old people talking smack on young people.” The irony here is, of course, that this statement is laced with the unfounded generalizations made by every generation previous.

This often maligned and beaten up “Generation Y”the same generation that consists of both myself and Adam Conover despite an 11 year age differenceis a group that has all the diversity, dimension and track record of value to nonprofits, as any age segment previous to it. Whether as donors or volunteers, they stand as a dependable replenishment of resource to charities large and small.

Let’s explore some of the classic millennial stereotypes, and why the organizations who believe them too closely will lose out.

Millennials Are Self-Centered—Why You’re Wrong

The Narcissistic image of millennials is perhaps the longest standing, the most lampooned in the media, and the one which has proven the most difficult to shed. It’s arguably been tough to shake due to the communications methods that are driven and documented by taking selfies, or similar. At the time of writing, SnapChat is the dominant social platform for this age group, and its very existence relies on the continual use of images, which are most likely to be selfies than anything else.


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Nonprofits and the agencies they operate, require not only dollars donated (treasure), but also the precious time of people. While any act can be manipulated into a perception of being motivated by personal gain, volunteering offers the most distance from such accusations. Millennials make up a quarter of the population in the USA. 22% of this population volunteer their time to charity—which is very consistent with preceding generations. The well for this resource is not drying up. On the contrary, social service agencies can depend on GenY to step up to answer the call. As volunteers, they will also very naturally bring attention to your cause as they focus their social media efforts on your mission, and their hard work to support it.

Millennials are Entitled and Have an Attitude—Why You’re Wrong

It’s easy to fall into the ranks of stereotyping when you hear the rationale over and over. The information age has been both a blessing and a curse on my generational comrades. Undoubtedly, the curse has been the ironic outcome of this age to bring the world the “poster child” called The Millennial. In the workforce ranks of both business and nonprofits, this has been realized by lumping this age group into know-it-alls simply because they’re digital natives, and others are not.

Hold on... wait a second. What’s a “digital native?” This label essentially means they’ve likely had electronic informational gadgetry since they were little. It’s part of their (ahem) wiring. What we can then reasonably assume is that GenY very likely approaches problems—in life and in business—in a way that is at worst unique and at best, innovative. That is a huge win for business and forward-thinking nonprofit organizations. In fact, 68% of hiring managers say millennials have skills that prior generations do not. The best nonprofit leaders will understand and leverage this news.

Millennials are Obsessed with Their Phones—Why You’re Wrong

OK it’s true… Mobile internet use by Millennials has doubled from 2012 to 2017. That adds up to 223 minutes per day of gazing into the screens of their precious phones—these things which are likely relegated to selfies, social media and texting. Right? Not so fast.

This stereotype is perpetuated by the belief that GenY has trivialized the very technology that has not only defined their generation, but of the Age itself. But that’s not all that’s going on here. This perpetuation of the stereotype by anyone demonizes the tech revolution that is embodied by these do-it-all handheld devices. And this does nothing but hold back organizations—especially needy nonprofits—from realizing all that technology can bring.

While we may be less able or inclined to donate large sums of money, we do give more frequently, in smaller amounts, through our phones . Tapping into resources like GoFundMe or YouCaring when you need donations will increase your overall awareness and interest within the generation. Attach a story explaining how it will make life better for you and let us spread the message for you. 

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge showed the world how the viral aspects of social media can make a cause flush with media attention (and thus dollars) overnight. To disrespect such power is to condemn an organization to the history books.

Millennials are Demanding, Impatient and Unwilling to Pay Dues—Why You’re Wrong

Generations prior to mine began their careers with time-honored traditions and cultures born and raised in the many decades previous to them. The opportunities were nearly limitless for those willing to “put in the time” and climb the ladder.

It’s a mistake to expect millennials to do the same for your business or nonprofit organization. This has more to do with the economy and world order in which we find ourselves today, than anything else. After all, it was Corporate America and Wall Street who, years ago, kicked things off by putting profits before people. Reciprocal loyalty would never be the same.   

It’s also a mistake to for charities and nonprofits to write off this generation due to this stereotype. Rather, millennials are a vibrant and dependable source of manpower and talent. This group is driven to volunteer when they identify with your purpose, and especially when they can utilize skill sets for a cause in which they believe. In a nutshell, they are willing to put in the time necessary to make a difference.

Millennials will donate to charity, will volunteer for and accept employment by nonprofit organizations. You can expect average unit sizes to be smaller. But as a group, you’ll find GenY to be as dependable as any generation previous.

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Morgann Bernasek

Morgann Bernasek

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