Why Millennials are the Future of Philanthropy

Roughly 75 million millennials were born in the United States between 1980 and 1997. As the largest living generation in U.S. history, millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Today, millennials are the most highly educated and tech-savvy generation in U.S. history. They embrace new mobile technology and social media, and are more flexible with career decisions throughout their 20s and 30s. In addition, the ways that millennials think about justice issues, their careers, and their giving will have huge impacts on local, state, and national communities for decades to come.

By nature of my work, I often get asked about the key traits that define the largest and most diverse generation in American history: Are millennials really that different? Are they the most “self-entitled” and “narcissistic” generation in U.S. history? The answer, quite surprisingly, is both yes and no. While digital and social media may portray the millennial generation as lazy and self-centered, I have come to discover through my own nonprofit work, Philanthropy for America (PFA), that the two most defining characteristics of the millennial generation are perseverance and passion. These traits are manifested in the finding that millennials are more involved with philanthropic efforts and social justice issues than any other generation in U.S. history.

The Greek origin of philanthropy is “love of mankind.” American philanthropist and historian Robert H. Bremmerdefined philanthropy as the “voluntary action for the public good” performed by philanthropists and the wealthy. More specifically, he believed that the aim and function of philanthropy is to improve the quality of human life through education and skills acquisition, climate change, health care, religion, arts/cultures, human resources, and more.

The Giving USA Foundation reports that in the year 2015, U.S. donors, including individuals, estates, foundations and corporations, gave an estimated $373.25 billion towards philanthropic causes, a 4.1 percent increase over 2014. Of that number, individual giving made up $264.58 billion in which 60 percent of millennials give an average of $481. Furthermore, 84 percent of more than 2,500 millennials surveyed gave to at least one nonprofit organizations, nearly 70 percent of millennials are willing to raise money on behalf of a nonprofit they care about, and more than 70 percent spent at least an hour volunteering in 2014. That is, millennials tend to give more frequently, in small amounts, to more causes and charities, and are more likely to help companies/organizations develop future products and services in American society. This all goes to show that millennial donors are investing in their desires to pursue public justice and to enact social change.

...millennials are more involved with philanthropic efforts and social justice issues than any other generation in U.S. history.

Reflecting back upon my current work, I have learned that Christian millennials want to feel connected and fulfilled with their work, to make a greater impact for the common good, and to pursue volunteering and giving to nonprofit organizations addressing injustices. Amos 5:24 states, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” When justice is pursued, it becomes love in action. This in turn has the ability to transform communities and nations, and to bring hope that fuels our sense of perseverance and passion rooted in the so-called American dream.

As millennials continue to lead the way for social justice and sustainable change, have you ever thought of how philanthropy can be used as a way of loving your neighbor? If we care for the marginalized and the poor, then that should be, at least in part, accompanied by financial giving. Whether you are in a place where you can give $5 or $5,000 dollars, giving financially to those in need is an important way to pursue justice in our communities and to steward the resources God has given us.

Recent research has shown that millennials value change and are spurred on by a passion to make their communities, nation, and world better. That being said, we can't be satisfied; we must push more for a shared vision of justice to unleash opportunity in areas that need change the most. Let’s be known as the generation that tangibly worked for improvement and loved one another through giving and service.

-Roy Y. Chan is the founder and CEO of Philanthropy for America (PFA), a nonprofit whose mission is to enlist, equip and empower millennials in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. Roy is the co-author of a forthcoming book, The Future of Accessibility in Higher Education (IGI Global Publishing, January 2017). Roy can be reached for comments or questions at rychan@indiana.edu