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Interesting Ways Millennials Are Changing Charitable Giving

As cause-oriented millennials model new approaches to philanthropy, an MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership can provide strategies for maximizing their contributions.

Eleven years ago, Beth Walton, now CEO of the Town of Palm Beach United Way in Palm Beach, Florida, set out to engage millennials in the work of the organization, which funds programs that provide health, educational, and income support to more than 360,000 children, women, and men. Walton’s leadership skills and fundraising acumen had earned the chapter the distinction of having the highest per capita giving, with the bulk of donor support—more than $4.5 million in 2017–18—coming from individuals rather than corporations. “So when it came to starting a millennial group, I thought, ‘You’re very good at raising money. You got this,’ ” she said.

“I brought a group of Palm Beach island ‘young people’ together to … help us raise money, sort of like the Young Friends of the Town of Palm Beach United Way. Before their first official meeting, I set the agenda, which included how I wanted them to help the United Way. They would host a cocktail party or a dinner where they and all their friends would get dressed up and raise lots of money. This was my first experience with a complete lack of knowledge about what makes millennials tick,” Walton said. “At that first meeting, they arrived in casual attire with their own agenda and bearing bowls of homemade yogurt and granola. The agenda looked and said nothing like the one I had created. They decided to call themselves the Islanders (because that was more hip), not the Young Friends of Blah Blah. Talk about getting it wrong. This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for me.”

Interesting Ways Millennials Are Changing Charitable Giving

That led to what she calls Beth’s Lesson No. 1: “You actually don’t know everything about raising money.” And the meeting brought Beth’s Lesson No. 2 into focus: “Millennials insist their donations have meaning,” she says.

“They didn’t want a cocktail party or dinner, they didn’t want to dress up, and they wanted to do something that they all liked to do. The idea of a 5K race was born (since they were all athletic and runners), and it would be perfect on Thanksgiving morning as this was the perfect time of the year to express gratitude. ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ has been a tagline of the race since it began. They also decided not to raise dollars for the United Way’s general fund; instead, they decided to feed people on Thanksgiving. They need to know what they are supporting and how it impacts someone’s life.”

In 2017, proceeds from the ninth-annual Turkey Trot funded 3,200 Thanksgiving meals for clients of 20 health and human service agencies.1 “This group of young adults also changed the way I defined success,” Walton said. “I use to define success by the dollars raised; they define success by the number of people actually fed on Thanksgiving. … They insist on meaning. It is an important factor for them in choosing whether to work with us, or other organizations.”

Like the Islanders, cause-oriented millennials in communities across the globe are changing the rules of charitable engagement in fresh and surprising ways. And with members of the millennial generation poised to outpace the boomers as early as 2019,2 nonprofit leaders are closely tracking this demographic group’s philanthropic tendencies.

When it comes to charitable giving, millennials also are:

  • Digital: This next wave of philanthropists and volunteers leverages technology to support worthy causes. According to the Charitable Giving Report, while overall U.S. charitable giving grew just 1% from 2015 to 2016, online giving was up 7.9%. The total amount of fundraising dollars contributed online (excluding grants) in 2016 hit an all-time high of 7.2%. In another shift, 17% of online gifts were transactions from mobile devices—a 21% increase over 2015’s level.4
  • Social: Millennials demonstrate peer-to-peer leadership qualities as they share and amplify news about issues and events across social media. These socially conscious social media users choose Facebook most frequently to post about causes they support. In one survey, respondents said they’d written a Facebook post about a cause or issue in the past week.5
  • Hands-On: Many millennials view monetary and volunteer contributions as having the same value, and they are looking for ways to engage. Companies attract millennial employees with corporate social responsibility programs that offer a chance to give back to the community. “Living in South Florida, we have many volunteer opportunities during hurricane season,” Walton said. “This group is always the first to call to do hands-on work: collecting supplies or working at an emergency shelter. My older donors are always the first to call with, ‘Where can I send the check?’ ”

Baby boomers and millennials create an intricate tapestry of charitable opportunities. But it’s the millennial influence on the fundraising landscape that is likely to reverberate for generations. A 2017 BBB Wise Giving Alliance survey says millennial parents are raising “the next generation of philanthropic superheroes.”5 And as the 2017 Millennial Impact Report puts it, “Millennials aren’t just a subset of your donors, they’re your organization’s future.”6

How Can I Prepare for These Changes in Nonprofit Management?

Walden University’s MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership program can provide the knowledge and skills you need to lead successfully and confidently across the shifting landscape of charitable giving. An online MS degree from an accredited university can help you develop the leadership qualities to work for social change in nonprofit positions such as community development director, executive director, program specialist, director of development, and social entrepreneur.

In addition to a general nonprofit management master’s degree program—where academic theory is blended with hands-on experience—Walden offers specializations in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Global Leadership, Local Government Management for Sustainable Communities, and International Nongovernmental Organizations. The Self-Designed option lets you tailor your studies to your goals and interests.

It’s a dynamic time in the nonprofit world, and with an MS degree you can up your game or transform your life with a new career direction. Make your move. The world is waiting.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership degree online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,