Millennials: The future of your NPO

Last weekend I presented at a conference for nonprofit professionals on engaging Millennials, “Millennials: The future of your NPO”. We had some great discussion on their experience working with Millennials in a volunteer capacity, and my experience working with college students on a daily basis. I thought I would share what I presented to them and what served as the basis for our discussion.

what is a millennials

There has been a lot of research over the last few years trying to identify this generation, their values, habits, consumerism tendencies, etc. These studies help us identify ways that we can reach out to this population more successfully, and for nonprofits, how you can engage potential supporters in these rapidly changing technological times. I feel like once I finally get a hang of what the new social media platform is, it changes. If we don’t keep up, it’s out loss. 


Let’s start with a quick snapshot.

  • They were born in 1980– we have a 20-year gap that they are coming from, which is important to know because we have 35-year-olds and 15-year-olds, which is obviously very different.
  • They are almost a quarter of the US population.
  • They are on track to become the most educated generation in American History, AND on average have 45k in debt.– This is important to note because that affects the type of full-time employment they take in the future due to the amount of debt.
  • By next yearthey will account for 36% of the US workforce, and by 2025, 75% globally. This is HUGE. NPOs need to take advantage of that large of a population.
  • Characteristics:
    1. Social– They are highly social and connected. They are influenced by their peers and crave interaction.
    2. Tech Savvy– Tech-savvy is probably an understatement, they know the in’s and out’s of technology and are the ones creating new technology. They grew up on it and it’s what they know. 
    3. Global– They are global. They constantly want to travel and experience other cultures. Many of them have been out of the country by the time they graduate highschool. 
    4. Multitaskers & Task oriented
    5. Innovative
    6. Open to change- They don’t agree with doing something one way, just because it’s the way it’s always been done. They fight the status quo and they see that as a good thing. 69% of Millennials say they believe office attendance on a regular basis is unnecessary and 89% prefer to choose when and where they work rather than being placed in a 9-5 position. This is because they measure productivity by work completed, not by time spent in the office. 
    7. Narcissistic– They love selfies!! They value their image and how other perceive them.

Before we move on, I want to recognize this quote: 

“Companies or brands that successfully market to Millennials are ones that recognize that there is no such thing as a ‘Millennial’—just individuals or groups of individuals who are at a similar lifestage and have lived through similar experiences. They want to be treated for who they are, rather than be lumped together and labeled.”

– Fiona O’Donnell, Senior Lifestyles & Leisure Analyst

For these purposes, we are still going to generalize and lump millennials together, but this is important to keep in mind when actually working with Millennials on a deeper level. Very often this generation gets a bad rap because they are seen as the selfish generation by some, but no one wants to be clumped into that one lens. As a Millennial, I can safely agree with this statement. I am in a very different life stage and level in my career than many other Millennials….I also hate selfies. 

In addition to just talking about who they are as a whole group and the numbers, I want to talk more about how they are engaging, how they are working, and how they are giving. Taking each of these into consideration is what will allow you to better engage with them, develop them, and keep them. Let’s break it down.

You all see everyone on their phones all the time, those of you that are not Millennials are probably still on your phone all the time, because it’s so easy and at the tips of your fingers. If you are on a college campus, watch out, students don’t even look up from their phones to cross the street. 85% of them own smartphones and are touching them on average 43 times a day. This means endless opportunities to reach them.

What are they doing on those phones? Texting, Liking, Tweeting, Snapping…. and taking selfies. So because of that, they are 56% more likely to discover marketing content on social networks, but even taking that into consideration, still 95% say their friends are the most credible source of product information. Word of mouth. So they might find something online, but they do it/buy it/share it because of their friends. 

We know that they account for 36% of the workforce, but 28% of them are already managers and 2/3 of them see themselves in management in 10 years. They want to lead, which is good for us, because Millennials are a generation that values social change and either they will be working in your nonprofits, or they can be at corporations pushing volunteer opportunities. On the downside, 58% expect to leave their job in three years or less. This does not help the sustainability of any organization. 

They are smart, 30% of them created a business while in college. 

Lastly, one of the most important stats in my opinion, 92% feel like they are working for a company that is making a positive impact. That might be because they are in a nonprofit already, a cause-focused for-profit, or maybe they are at a corporation that has a strong social responsibility program, we don’t know for sure. 


The fact that Millennials are on social media 24/7 is not rocket science, you walk down the street and can tell that. You see people sitting at a restaurant not talking to each other, but on their phones, and you can tell that. But what you might now know is how they are giving, both their time and their money.

  • 61% of Millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference. This is a bhuge population that wants to help but might now know how. The question we need to ask ourselves is how we can increase that number even further
  • 84% donated in 2014, typically smaller donations to multiple groups. On average 3.6 different ones, but they are still giving.
  • 70% spent at least an hour volunteering, and 37% volunteered up to 10 hours. Now this is not that impressive to me. Volunteering for 1 hour probably does not do much, but it is a huge potential population to give more than that if they get hooked. If 61% feel compelled to make a difference, why aren’t our hours higher?


Based on the research of the generalized group of Millennials, we know their characteristics, we know what they are looking for and what keeps them tied to things, so what is it that your nonprofit is giving or not giving them that could be determining whether they are engaging on a deeper level?

I struggle a lot with this statement of “what do they want” because I always teach volunteers the idea of putting the community first. Not what they want to do, but what the nonprofit and community need. But ultimately, if we take into consideration what they are looking for, we can tweak the way we might be doing things a bit and reach this population.

What do they want?

They want to use their skills and expertise. 77% are more likely to volunteer if they can use their specific skills and expertise.This is a perfect opportunity for you to utilize free labor. You are more likely to retain them as volunteers if they feel they are being put to good use, and having an impact. The top 3 motivators to get involved are passion, people and expertise. People enjoy doing what they are good at, so let them help you further than just filing papers and doing tedious tasks. Look at Taproot, a huge nonprofit dedicated to connecting nonprofits to professionals through pro bono consulting, has seen overwhelming positive responses.  

They are eager to learn and develop professionally and want to do so with a mentor. They want challenges and not just to stick to the traditional, but innovate. But with all that being said, unfortunately, they want to do that with as few barriers as possible. It needs to be easy for them to get involved or they might find a different opportunity that is. 

They want transparency, especially as donors, they want to know exactly what they are doing or giving goes to. Share outcomes of their volunteer work, why is it helping, what came out of it in the long run. 

Since they care about people, they want to share information about the cause, not organizations. They need a call to action, pictures, engaging articles, something about Human Rights as a whole, not at what the Human Rights agency needs specifically.

They want online tools, and not just social media. Social media is where I get most of my news and updates. Once I have organizations I trust and support, I don’t check their websites individually, I follow them through Twitter and Facebook. But they are also looking for training and ways to volunteer online in addition to in-person opportunities. Catchafire is doing an excellent job of working with nonprofits for online work.

47% are more likely to engage if they have previously done business with you- so what it all comes down to is engaging them to build trust before asking anything of them. Once they become long-term volunteers, they corral others to do so as well, and you want Millennials as advocates for your organization because that is where the shares, tweets, posts, etc. come into play.

What are you giving them?

All of these things might seem like common sense, but often we get caught up in the work, we forget. or we are so ingrained in it that something might be clear to us, but not to them. Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Is your mission clear?
  • Are you using social media? and using it well?
  • Are your volunteer opportunities varied and your schedules flexible?
  • Do you have someone to supervise?
  • Have you prepared skills-based work?
  • Are you thanking them?


More and more corporations are expanding their social responsibility efforts to include paid time off to volunteer, donation campaigns among their staff, staff team building volunteer days. 45% said some of the time they spent volunteering was either offered or promoted by their company, and 87% felt encouraged to volunteer or participate in their company’s cause work. This is a great way to take those companies that already donate, and try to add a volunteer component to it as well, or just further engage those that are already volunteering. It is a foot in the door with this population and its a great way to advertise.

The want to be with others and value peer involvement so reaching out to professional groups that may want to do a service project as a team builder is a good idea. The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network is a national organization that has chapters all over the country, that’s one, but there are countless others; alumni groups, field specific network groups, etc. Again, emphasize your cause, not just your organization.

Make them leave your page wanting or feeling compelled to do something. Donate, sign a pledge, share or retweet, sign up for an event, volunteer, etc. 

Give them spots on your board of directors. It will give them more responsibility, and the board a different perspective.

Recruiting is easier than retention, but ultimately what we want is retention. We want them to be long-term volunteers, we want them to donate, we want them to be the talent in our organization. how do we do that? Make the first impression with them be a good one. That will make or break their involvement. Clearly communicate expectations. They want to know exactly what you want and you need to tell them how you expect it. Utilize their skills to their fullest ability, and make it a good use of their time. 

Give them feedback. Tell them what they did wrong, tell them what they did right. Offer them opportunities to grow. Maybe they are involved in a small way, but as they learn more about your organization, they can take on more responsibilities. Have a little faith that they can do the work, and do it well. and finally, show appreciation. 
Some of you may not be in the field by the time these individuals are working in your organizations, but you want to leave it in good hands. Prepare them now to be mission-driven and engaged individuals. Millennials are heading in this direction, so we need to start attracting them now.


One thought on “Millennials: The future of your NPO

  1. Pingback: Corporate Social Responsibility: What is it and why does it matter? | Modern Social Impact

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