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.


It’s pronounced “fiddy cent”: Social change initiatives across the world.


In a previous post I shared about the common pitfalls of social change that we consistently see. It is important to think about these things prior to entering a new community, not to be negative, but to avoid doing more harm than good. Simply put, it’s about being aware. You are entering a new community from the outside, this alone reinforces the idea that the communities themselves are lacking and need resources from the outside to work on their problem. So we need to be careful.

I work with students engaging Alternative Breaks programs (week-long service trips over spring and winter breaks, see Break Away) and in that program they take a class with me about social change and community service. This past semester they took some time to discuss an article called “7 Worst International Aid Ideas“. Now, this article is by no means a scholarly published article, it is one persons opinion on some of the aid initiatives they have seen and heard about, but it is a good discussion starter.

Note: I was given lessons from the students on how to properly pronounce 50 Cent’s name. So here is a lesson for you if you too struggle with rappers these days, it is “fiddy”, not “fifty”. Apparently I am not as cool as I thought.

The article covers 7 main ideas. Here is a brief recap of a few of them:

One million t-shirts for Africa- Foreign aid circles employ the synonym SWEDOW (stuff we don’t want) to describe aid initiatives. An example- Jason Sadlers’ 1 Million T-shirts program. Sadler admitted he had never been to Africa, and had never worked in aid or development before, but he cared, and came up with the idea to send shirts to Africa to help.

  1. Why was it presumably bad?
    1. It’s debatable whether people actually need t-shirts in Africa. There is practically nowhere that people who want shirts are unable to get them. “Just because you have a really large hammer does not mean that everything in the world is a nail.”
    2. Just dumping millions of shirts is inefficient. Think about packing, shipping and transport costs alone. It’s wasteful. It would be far more cost effective to commission a local manufacturer and creating stimulus with the local economy.Why would you buy any more shirts if now you have a five year supply for free?T

TOMS Buy-One-Give-One- TOMS shoes built their brand on the idea that buying one pair of their shoes automatically gives a pair to an underprivileged child in a developing country. TOMS has been widely criticized for the same reasons as the shirt campaigns.

  1. Why was it presumably bad?
    1. Misses the point that it’s not a problem of not having shoes, it’s a problem have poverty. Shoelessness is a symptom of a much larger issue. While donating shoes helped shoelessness, it does not help poverty.
    2. Jobs help poverty. TOMS doesn’t make its shoes in Africa or the countries they are sending them to, they make them in China.

Machine Gun Preacher- Sam Childers, aka the machine gun preacher, was an American child who spent some time behind bars, headed to Sudan on a missionary project to repair huts devastated in the war. There he said he was commanded by God to build an orphanage for local children, and also to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army who was terrorizing the region.

  1. Why was it presumably bad?
    1. Trying to solve a problem of armed insecurity by establishing another armed militia, no matter the size, is not the solution. Peace, and a long-term future for those affected by violence, can only be guaranteed through a diplomatic agreement.

50 Cent ransoming children in Somalia- 50 Cent visited Somalia at the request of the World Food Programme to raise awareness of the issues there. He toured hard-hit areas with the media, then announced that he would provide a meal for a child in need for every “Like” on his Street King energy drink Facebook page. He would also donate a million more meals if the Facebook page reached a million likes.

  1. Why was it presumably bad?
    1. The meals presumably have been budgeted for and could have been donated without the Facebook “likes”. This is essentially extortion concealed as humanitarianism – 50 Cent has the ability to donate the meals, but will not unless the general public gives him something first in the form of Street Kings brand promotion.

There are obviously good and bad to each of these initiatives, but it prompted a great discussion and allowed the students to think critically about international aid work. They questioned, argued, agreed, and discussed this material. It was wonderful.

What are your initial thoughts about these efforts?

More resources- check out what Forbes has to say about lessons from TOM’s Shoes.

Telling your story: How to create a team of advocates

StorytellingResourcesFor some reason or another I have recently come across a lot of resources on storytelling. This is a great skill to have if you are a public speaker, but also in general with how digital this world is. Thinking about how we are telling our personal stories, and in an organizations case, a story to inspire others to join the cause/movement/mission, takes actively working on it. Storytelling is an art, it takes work and planning.

I took an online +ACUMEN class, and they taught us about the “Leadership PRESence Model”. This course is a great resource.

  • Presence is the ability to be completely in the moment
  • Reaching Out is the ability to build relationships with others through empathy and active listening
  • Expressiveness is the ability to express feelings and emotions through your message
  • Self-Knowing is the ability to be authentic and show your values

Storytelling is important to engage people and capture emotion and the feeling of the experience. For nonprofits this is HUGE! You have opportunities to tell the story, tell the need of your communities, and grow your impact through inspiring others. Every opportunity to tell an awesome story counts, whether it is a formal presentation, or in passing with potential supporters. Telling a vivid and compelling story can be beneficial in so many ways. It can build support, raise funds, inspire and motivate your employees, and overall just make you feel good.

There are some great resources out there. Here are a few that I have found helpful.

Getting the story itself down is important, but just as important is the method in which you tell it. Utilize technology! There are so many outlets for your story to be heard. A few that I have seen most are videos, articles, Twitter, Periscope, formal presentations, Instagram, photos, data/infographics,, Newsletters, Pinterest, etc. (these links are to articles on how to use them, not just to the platform).

Figure out what your story is, how to tell it, and go spread the word!

Carnival’s “Fathom” has people talking…

A college student in the U.S, months after applying, finally gets accepted to serve as a volunteer at a school for 3 weeks in Uganda, and will fly out there to teach English. A couple in their mid-forties book a trip on the new Carnival social impact cruise, Fathom. The week-long journey will allow them time to enjoy their cruise, fun in the sun, and spend three days volunteering with local nonprofits in the Dominican Republic.

Is there a difference between the two?

The debate is still up in the air. Everyone seems to have their own ideas as to what exactly “voluntourism” is. Some see it as a vacation that was planned, that happens to have some volunteering blended into it, others view it as any volunteer work done outside of ones home country, whether or not the sole purpose was to volunteer. Either way, the constant critique is about the impact it may be having in countries around the world. With recent news about Carnivals plans for 2016, the buzz has only grown.voluntourism

More and more people are spending their vacations volunteering, it’s a trend we see growing and Carnival cruise lines is getting in on that. Carnival cruise line has created a new view on social impact travel, it’s called the Fathom. Travelers will go on a week-long cruise where they will spend three days “tackling profound social issues through a sustainable business model” said President Tara Russell. They are currently set to arrive in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic in April 2016 teaching English, building water filters, and cultivating cacao plants. Carnival aims to train travelers prior to the arrival through conversational Spanish lessons, impact activities, and other workshops.

So the question is, is Carnival’s cruise doing “good” service? Will they actually be helping, or are they just using it as a marketing tool?

I cannot fully answer that question because I don’t know the relationships they have built or the training they might have, but I can safely say that not all volunteering is good (Carnival, I would love it if you reach out to me and told me more) . Some people are baffled by that, I hear it a lot, “we are giving our time to serve others, how can it possibly be a bad thing?”

People want to do good in the world, and they may have good intentions, but it’s not just that simple. There are many things to think about- Are volunteers displacing workers in that community? Are they creating more work for the community if they are unskilled in the tasks? Are they using up resources that may be better used for others? Is this a sustainable project or is it creating dependency?

Voluntourism doesn’t have to always be negative, it can have a positive impact, it just takes work. The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University says, in an article on ethical inquiry, “Ultimately, if volunteers are cognizant of the imbalance, understand what they can and cannot do, are cautious and work hard to truly develop relationships with locals, perhaps both volunteers and host communities can benefit from volunteer tourism. However without the right preparation for such volunteer trips, voluntourism has the potential do more harm than good.”

The issue with Voluntourism is that it has to be appealing. If the work they are doing is not something that people will buy into, then it will not be successfully sold, and the companies will not make money. Working directly with the community and figuring out what the needs are is key. The closer you are to the people, the more empathetic you can be, and the more empathetic you become, the easier it is to share the story with others. Telling a story is ultimately the best way to get other engaged, so tell the communities story well, and you can get the buy-in and customers you are looking for. I urge companies engaging in this type of work to spend the time building relationships, really address the need, and tell the story of the community well, this will work towards better change in the world, not finding the projects that can easily be sold as fun.

If you are still skeptical to the idea that service can do more harm than good, read about an experience a college student at Ithaca had in her travels to India. Her eyes were open in a way she had never expected, or Pippa Biddle as she recounts her high school experience volunteering in Tanzania.

Millennials are coming! Millennials are coming!

MIR_Photo1-m5xvq8yhdimoinzy0b7fwn8o1f9avbddjx8rym8taoA couple of years ago I read a book called Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. The first time I ever heard of the book was when the author was standing right in front of me, about to deliver her keynote address at a day conference where I was presenting. She started talking, and I was instantly engaged. I only took my attention away to scan the room and take note of how the nonprofit leaders were taking it all in. In a college town where nonprofits are constantly dealing with Millennials, I was curious what they felt, if they were ready to take on the challenges of truly engaging these individuals, and what I, as a person who encourages students to become engaged, could do to best prepare them. Even though I was intently focused on her speech, I felt guilty. I was sitting in this audience, having only paid enough attention to the portion of the schedule that pertained to me, had no clue who she was (mu51IwiisVrWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ch less even read her book), and working with Millennials is my job! Engaging others in nonprofit work is a topic that is so exciting to me and a part of my every day life at work, that the learner in me would have purchased, read, and prepared questions for her ahead of time had I known she would be there. A lesson learned for next time.

I am a millennial, I advise millennials, and I work with many nonprofits who struggle to work with millennials. I see it every day, college students who are looking for jobs that are not only meaningful to them, but that have a deeply positive impact on society. I see their desire, their passion, and their struggles.

This book put into words a lot of things I knew, but maybe couldn’t articulate, and gave me a whole new wealth of knowledge that I had not even considered. If you have yet to read the book, you should. Saratovsky and Feldmann talk about the four generations in the workplace, the cycle of engagement, and the future.

Generalizing any generation is obviously hard, but through their research and the research of others, they discuss 5 generalities that are present within Millennials. They are:

  1. Digitally Connected: They’ve grown up with news at the touch of a button, and they are constantly connected to their networks and friends. This can often be seen as self-absorbed or shallow, but it’s their mode of expression.
  2. Creative: They get joy from the opportunity to deliver information in new and innovative ways.
  3. Solution-Centered: They want to generate solutions to pressing social issues. They want to be a part of the solution, not just a bystander.
  4. Self-Organized: Connectedness is key. They bring networks together for a particular cause.
  5. Open and Transparent: Millennials want to know what is going on. All the time. They want answers to their questions, and they accept feedback on how they perform.

All of this resurfaced in my mind, and prompted this post, because a couple of months ago I stumbled upon an article in the Huffington Post about building your workforce with Millennials. Employers need to be thinking about these things to truly be prepared for this generation of civic-minded individuals.

The 2014 Millennial Impact Report by consulting firm Achieve, gives us some insight as to what impact Millennials are having. According to the report:

  • 47% volunteered in the past month
  • 87% donated to a nonprofit organization in 2013
  • 57% wanted to see more company-wide volunteer opportunities through their employer (company-wide volunteer days, sabbaticals, performing charitable projects with a department or team).

This shows us that not only do nonprofits need to be shifting their views on how to engage volunteers, donors, and new employees, but the for-profit sector has huge opportunities to connect as well. By taking in this data, companies can see how important engaging in social issues are to this generation.

Nonprofits and for-profits have to adapt, there’s no way out of it. Luckily for me, I get to work with the wonderful students that are causing the workforce to change in a way that further supports the social issues our community faces.

….but there’s more!

Not only are we changing workforce culture, we are also reshaping charitable giving. NPR posted an article last year about the impact Millennials are having on donations through online giving, and the changes we are seeing among generations. Millennials are often referred to as a selfish generation, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. In a survey conducted by World Vision-44 percent of all adults believe older people are more likely to give to charity than younger people. And, only 7 percent believe today’s young people are more generous than previous generations, but in reality, 56 percent of men ages 18-34 have given a charitable gift, versus 36 percent of older men (ages 35 and above).

Millennials are not only giving more, they are giving in new ways. Crowdfunding, a digital platform for raising money, is being used all across nonprofits and social enterprises. See Fundly or as examples. Millennials don’t do things the same way as previous generations. Most students who come across my office don’t even know how to write a check, the dollar amount is written on the “to” line, the signatures are left blank, etc. So why not go with it? Let them use their platforms and continue to support charities in innovative ways.

The workforce, both for and non-profit, are finding new ways to adapt and embrace the generational changes. If you aren’t, you should get on board fast!