Millennials And the Future of Community Activism

By Jocelyne Daw


Because of the huge societal challenges we face, Millennials understand that we have to do more than just “fill the gaps” with donations. Millennials are driving a realignment of roles, responsibilities and resources across the sectors. They believe new approaches to address intractable community issues are needed. So what does this mean? Last week we featured Millennials and why their involvement in community needs to be approached differently than other generations. This week we look at five standout millennial attitudes that will drive social change and reshape community activism.

1. From organizations to causes

Millennials engage with causes and issues to help people NOT institutions. Their commitment isn’t to the nonprofit sectors or any particular nonprofit organization. They believe government and business have an equal chance of contributing to common good and driving social change. They are sector agnostic.As stated in the Top 100 Findings from the Millennial Impact Project, “We [Millennials] are getting away form random organizations that solicit via phone. We are focusing our resources on local causes we believe in.” Millennials are passionate about causes and movements that they can really see impacting the world in a positive way.



  • 42% of millennials said that they give to whatever inspires them in any particular moment. This is a big change from older generations that favor long-term donations and engagement.

2. From giving to making a difference

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Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 1.03.28 PM

Millennials don’t want to just give, they want know the impact of their contributions – whether it’s through volunteering or donating. Millennials stated that their biggest pet peeve when donating was not knowing whether their donation would make any significant difference. Millennials fully expect charities to communicate the impact of their contribution. Being explicit about how money will be used, and the direct impact that it will have is vital to retaining this generation.Communicating the impact of contributions doesn’t have to be fancy. Integrate technology to creatively convey how contributions can help. 

3. From silos to partnerships across sectors

Millennials want to step back from a narrow way of thinking about the role of business philanthropy, government and nonprofits and acknowledge the interconnectedness of various factors and stakeholders. Millennials recognize the need to cut across organizational, sector, and even disciplinary boundaries.Millennials also believe, more than any other generation in the power of business to help drive social change while still contributing to the economy.

  • Almost 50% say they want to work for organizations that have a positive impact on society.

  • They want meaningful work that benefits others and that is more important than a high salary for 44% of them.

  • AND fully 36% said they would work harder if their company benefited society.



The integration of charity and business makes sense to millennials that are looking for ways to get products that they want while still impacting society in a positive way. What does this look like?

  • 91% would switch from one brand to another (with a product of similar price, quality) if one is associated with a cause, 10% higher than other generations

  • 51% have purchased a cause related product in the last year, compared to only 38% of all adults

  • Millennials are receptive to cause marketing and are more likely than non-Millennials to purchase items associated with a particular cause (37 % vs. 30 %).

4. From donating/volunteering to integrating causes into day-to-day life

The generation that was taught to recycle in kindergarten wants to be good to the planet and believes that collective action can make a difference. Millennials believe that working for causes is an integral part of life, and they are drawn to big issues. Instead of making one-off charitable donations in cash or in kind, they’re more likely to integrate their causes into daily life by buying products that support sustainable farming or “fair trade” principles, or by joining large movements that aim to solve social or environmental problems.

  • A survey found that Millennials, more than non-Millennials, prefer to actively engage in a cause campaign by encouraging others to support it (30% vs. 22%) or by participating in fundraising events (27% vs. 16%).



This generation looks at all of their assets when determining what they can bring to the table. Money, time, skills and networks are all valuable resources for charities, and millennials see the value in providing each of these things. They are one of the most diverse generations in our history and due to this, they are at very different places in their lives. Some may have money to contribute, and others will prefer to give their time, but in some way or another, millennials want to be involved in cause work. 

5. From CEO to peer influence for workplace giving

Peer-to-peer encouragement is key to boosting participation in charity efforts among millennials.

  • Nearly half of the young people surveyed for the Case Foundation 2015 Millennial Impact Report said they were likely to donate if a coworker asked them to, while only a fifth said they’d probably do so at the request of their companies’ chief executives.

  • Sixty-five percent of millennials said they were more likely to volunteer if their coworkers participated, while 44 percent said they were more likely to if their supervisor participated.

Each generation engages in community differently. As the next dominant generation Millennials enter the workplace and get involved in community understanding their approach and commitment will not only be important, it will change the way companies and nonprofits support their community work.