The Next Generation of Philanthropists: Strategies for Engaging Millennials

Categorized as: , & Tagged as: , , , , , on October 18, 2014.


Photo courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

Editor’s Note: A millennial illuminates strategies that bring meaningful philanthropy within reach of her generation.


 By Meredith James, Program Director at Giving Circles Fund  


If every Millennial in the U.S. donated 1 percent of his or her income, it would result in $16 billion raised for charity each year.  Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are considered to be a generation with a strong social conscience. We helped shift public opinion on hot button issues such as gay marriage and immigration reform and nearly three-quarters of us volunteer, yet less than 40 percent of Millennials reported donating $25 or more to philanthropy annually.[1] 

How can you translate this passion for civic engagement into philanthropic giving?

It was with this sentiment that Daniel Kaufman and Mike Berkowitz started the One Percent Foundation in 2007. The duo realized that although they thought they were being generous, they weren’t even donating 1% of their income each year. They rallied their friends and started a giving circle, which grew and grew, and eventually evolved into the Giving Circles Fund (GCF). GCF utilizes, as our name suggests, giving circles (groups of people who pool resources and decide collectively how to award a donation) to engage this hard to reach demographic. At GCF we believe strongly that feel strongly that Millennials can be thoughtful, impactful philanthropists today.

Meredith and Lana (Giving Circles Fund Executive Director) awarding La Cocina a grant at their 2013 fall event. Votes for the grant were cast by guests of the event and recorded and displayed in real time.

Whether or not the collective giving model is right for your organization, the following tips will help you to engage the next generation of givers.

Keep It Social

Leverage social media activity and post compelling pictures, infographics and videos; more than half of Millennials have shared information from an email of social media post with their friends. Go beyond well-maintained social media pages and make supporting your cause an in-person affair, too. Fifty-six percent of us get involved with an organization in order to meet like-minded peers.

Book launches, volunteer days, or even appreciation parties are great ways to engage Millennials while offering an opportunity to connect with both the organization and peers. For us, giving circles are inherently social and the giving process relies upon the interconnectedness of participants to work. Research from Connected to Give notes, “many people describe membership as fun, and specifically enjoy meeting and interacting with others from similar backgrounds.”

Offer Educational Opportunities

Many Millennials aren’t philanthropic because they don’t know where to give, or how to ensure their donation will make a difference. Giving circles tend to “focus as much on the experiential education of the giver as they do on the eventual allocation of charitable dollars to recipients,”[2] creating an opportunity for Millennials to learn from and with their peers.

In addition to educating Millennials about how to give, it is important to convey information about your work. Sixty-nine percent of the members of this cohort are most likely to give when they are “inspired by your cause.” Additionally, they want to know exactly how their money helps your cause (think “Your $25 donation feeds 30 children breakfast.”) Show them your good work, too! Pictures and success stories are great ways to share how their donations have made a difference.

Make It Easy To Give

We’re glued to our phones, so make it easy for potential donors to navigate your site. Eighty percent of Millennials connected with a nonprofit via their mobile device last year, therefore having mobile-ready content is key to engaging with our generation. Pictures and bold headlines work well on smartphones. Mobile donations are on the rise, too, with donating via phone ranking third behind donating on a website and donating in person.

Another way to increase the amount Millennials donate is to set up an option for recurring payments. The smaller chunk is easier to budget, and comes with less sticker shock than a large one-time payment. It’s amazing how $10 a month becomes an annual donation of over $100. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report reveals that 52% of Millennials would be interested in donating this way and almost 90% of Giving Circles Fund members chose to spread their donations over the year instead of making one annual payment.

Bringing It All Together: Giving Circles Fund Way

Giving Circles Fund inspires our generation to become lifelong philanthropists through our social media-integrated, mobile-ready platform that enables anyone to build or join a giving circle online.

There are currently ten different circles on our site, ranging from the national NextGen Circle that supports organizations in health, education, environment, poverty, and international aid, to smaller circles focused exclusively on issues like feminism, reproductive justice, or education. We are empowering the next generation to begin a habit of giving now via monthly recurring donations and a social giving model.

Engaging Millennials can seem daunting, but we’re really not that scary. We’re a passionate, civically-minded generation and developing a strategy to reach us is worth the effort. Recognize our social nature, both online and in person, and structure engagement activities that appeal to our preferences. While love of our phones can be maddening, use this to your advantage and make your web content mobile-ready. And finally, teach us! We want to learn about your organization and how our time and money will benefit your organization and cause. Involving the next generation of donors in philanthropy now, whether its through giving circles or other means, will benefit your organization and the sector for years to come.


[1] Millennial Impact Report

[2] Connected to Give



LEARN more about Giving Circles Fund here.

JOIN a giving circle with other passionate people by clicking here.

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