Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 3, 2013

Millennials care about causes over organizations: The good news and the bad news

                                                                                                        © Shutterstock

Special to Philanthropy Journal
Amber Smith
The Millennial Impact Project’s 2013 Millennial Impact Report bore a number of interesting findings about our generation’s giving lifestyle, highlighting facets of our volunteering and donating tendencies, our motivations for involvement and ways we are prone to connect.
In a world with greatly limited resources, the particular finding that Millennials are likely to care (and share) more about issues and causes than specific agencies, however, has interesting – rather, both good and bad – implications for individual nonprofits out there tackling those very issues and causes.
What does it really mean for a Millennial to be more interested in an issue or a cause than a particular organization? I liken Millennial concern with cause-over-organization to a grocery-shopping trip: You need groceries. You want your food to taste good, to fulfill your nutritional needs and to bear a low cost. Food that fulfills all of this criteria will theoretically perform well, regardless of brand name. Organizations, like groceries, must be able to effectively tackle issues and meet the needs of their “consumers,” have a low barrier to involvement and do all of this at a low cost.
It’s a tall order. A Millennial interest in the broader issues has the potential to result in some positive social impacts, but organizations unable to reconfigure their approach may fall by the wayside.
The good news for nonprofits
It’s good news for organizations that embrace collaboration, are impact-focused and have a solid vision of how their work fits into the scope of systemic change.
Let’s be friends
Nonprofit collaboration is a trendy concept these days, and for good reason, but in this case collaboration will help nonprofits attract Millennials because of simple math: If a Millennial’s interest is first piqued by a broader cause, as an organization, you’re more likely to catch their attention by being a part of the works of multiple other partners instead of by standing alone. The world, the media, the Internet are all busy places.
So the more you play nice and collaborate with others, the more likely a Millennial (or any person) is to be exposed to your organization working in the mass.
Who did you help today?
When working for a nonprofit it can be difficult to see the broader impact through the day-to-day in the office or in the field. But organizations that take time to step back and look at the good they’ve done each day – and who have mastered the art of telling the story of that good – will  thrive in a Millennial landscape.
Millennial Smarty-Pants
With more Millennials interested in the causes themselves, we can hope to see an increase in in-depth understanding of community issues and the challenges to resolving them. And because the key to developing viable solutions is understanding the problems, we may see more brainy Millennials coming out of the woodwork with innovative approaches to tackling these issues.
Organizations who will be successful with these forward-thinking Millennials are those that make room for them, carving out a space where they will be welcomed to contribute.
The bad news for nonprofits
Good-bye, “brand loyalty”
Millennials may unwittingly be ushering in a new era devoid of nonprofit “brand loyalty.” Over the past decade, the nonprofit approach to branding was to focus on the way it communicated in order to increase an organization’s visibility, become recognized by its target audiences and rise above competitors, according to a 2012 analysis by Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The pink ribbon is a recognized symbol for breast cancer awareness. Will, for example, fewer and fewer members of our generation associate the famed ribbon with Susan G. Komen? And what does this mean for future nonprofit marketing and branding efforts?
Usurping “Top Dogs”
Organizations looked upon as leaders in their issue area are often assumed to bear household names and wield large budgets. But Millennials’ passion for cause-over-organization will disrupt this perceived hierarchy, placing organizations that share their impacts and invite personal involvement ahead of today’s “top dogs.”
In fact, the traits that attract Millennial support are the same traits possessed by high-impact nonprofits: They focus on a bigger picture, inspire “evangelist,” nurture networks and partnerships, share ownership and leadership and more.
Amber Smith completed the Masters in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management program at NC State University in December 2011. She founded the Raleigh-based Activate Good at 21 and serves as its executive director. Smith blogs at Heart of Zeal.

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