Written By: Shannon Bianchi
Merriman-Webster’s dictionary defines a “millennial” as someone born in the 1980s or 1990s. However as a Millennial myself, I can say there is much more to this epithet than Merriman-Webster suggests. According to Forbes.com, there are over 80 million members of Generation Y worldwide, making it larger than any other generation. By 2025, Forbes suggests that Millennials will even make up 75% of the global workforce. But beyond the numbers, we Millennials are said to have it easier than any other preceding generation. We have great access to education, our culture is the most technologically advanced it has even been, and we do not know a world devoid of basic civil rights. Because we are lucky enough to have been born during this time, society is quick to label us as “privileged” or “entitled.” Contrary to this popular opinion, I think it is because of our progressive nature that most Generation Y-ers are among the most socially aware and philanthropic members of society.
According to The Huffington Post, Millennials are willing to contribute to charitable organizations any way they can. For example, three fourths of people aged 20-35 responded to an online survey saying they had made charitable donations in 2011 while 63% of respondents said they spent time volunteering. Additionally, the increase in applications for organizations such as AmeriCoprs and Teach for America reflects that 84% of Millennials claim that making a difference in the world is more important to them than professional recognition.
The obsession Millennials have with social media and technology has not alienated them from the world around them. Instead, today’s technological climate has simply changed the way Millennials get involved. The Millennial Report describes how “Today’s Millennials are transforming communities, relieving suffering and pursuing social change in a way that may run counter to the traditional ways of organizing, but it’s because they are wired to work differently — collaboratively, transparently, interactively, and entrepreneurially — to affect positive change in their local communities and around the world.” For example, one of the world’s leading social network sites, Facebook, launched a “donate” button last year so users are able to financially contribute to a cause while while looking over an organization’s page. Also, the professional networking site LinkedIn now allows users to search for volunteer positions via the “volunteer marketplace.” This “marketplace” lets nonprofits reach out to users who express interest in volunteering. Lastly, Mark Zucherberg, the founder of Facebook.com and perhaps the ultimate Millennial, was named the most generous philanthropist of 2013.
Similarly at Stonehill College, a community teeming with smart Millennials, the idea of volunteering and making the world a better place is the norm, not the exception. Collectively, students complete around 100,000 hours of community service each year and the institution has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for six of the last seven years. Stonehill’s wide range of community service opportunities guarantees that there is something for everyone’s volunteer interests. First, the Into the Streets Program is a student-led community service program that encourages students to go outside the “Stonehill bubble” and volunteer in the surrounding communities. Also, around 200 students each year participate in Stonehill’s H.O.P.E program. As part of the H.O.P.E. Program, students learn about social justice issues and then embark on a service immersion trip during their Spring Break. Additionally, The Developing Fundraising Leaders Institute (DFLI Program), conducted by the Center for Nonprofit Management and Advancement Division, aims to develop future fundraising leaders through a 12 week training program followed by an internship placement at a nonprofit organization. Lastly, the Stonehill Service Corps offers recent graduates the opportunity to serve for 11 months in various communities, including the Dominican Republic, Honduras, India, or Brockton, MA. The Stonehill community is a prime example of how Millennials enjoy volunteering and wish to improve the world around them.
So, how can nonprofits garner more support from Millennials? The 2013 Millennial Impact Report examined various nonprofits’ online presence and gives insight for organizations to better understand Generation Y, immerse them in a cause, and maximize the impact of their interest, time and giving. The report suggests that because 75% of Millennials like, retweet, and share content on social media and 51% connect to nonprofits via social media, “Organizations should think ‘mobile first.’” They should “focus on responsive design as well as content, including navigation, context around the organization’s work, and success stories. It’s imperative that organizations’ websites clearly show their work, demonstrate how potential constituents can help, and offer ways people can get involved.” Also, because this generation relies on social connectedness, organizations should “[design] programming…[that] ultimately help[s] retain young professionals and give[s] them opportunities to broaden their skillsets among groups of people invested in the same issue.”
A glowing example of how social media has helped charitable organizations is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. For weeks, everyone’s Facebook newsfeeds have been flooded with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and nominating their friends to do the same, all in efforts to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig ’s disease. The basis of the Ice Bucket Challenge is simple: donate or get doused with ice water. While most opt for latter, many are choosing to donate in addition to getting drenched. Between July 29 and August 11, The ALS Association has raised $1.35 million, according to NBC News. During this time period last year, The ALS Association only raised about $22,000. The reason the Ice Bucket Challenge is so successful is because this generation thrives off of social connectedness. If Millennials see their friends on social media getting involved, they are encouraged participate themselves.
To conclude, words such as “lazy”, “entitled”, and “privileged” are simply inaccurate representations of my generation. While our smartphones may be glued to our hands and our social media obsession may transform our basic communication skills, they are the exact tools that cultivate our social consciousness. Because of the instantaneous, 24-hour news cycle perpetuated by social media, an invention by Millennials, us Gen Y-ers are not immune to issues such as poverty, disease, and devastation. It is this platform which enables us to get involved and inspires us to make this world a better place.