Millennial Philanthropy

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Greatest Generation (The)
Youth Club
Millennials are a significant influence on American culture and attitudes about giving and volunteering.

Authored by Michelle Turchan


The Millennial generation has become a significant portion of the American citizen base, estimating to make up a quarter of the entire United States population. Although the exact dates of when this generation begins and ends remains officially undecided, the United States Census Bureau has most recently defined the Millennial generation to consist of American individuals born between 1982 and 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau). The Millennial generation has thus far proven to be advocates for giving back; using philanthropic initiatives such as personal giving, volunteering, and even fundraising as outlets for creating change within causes they care for. As Millennials are beginning to make up a large percentage of the workforce, their ability to support nonprofit organizations will continue to increase as their earning and spending power rises. It is crucial for those involved in the stakes of civil society and the nonprofit sector to study the habits of giving by this generation, in order to ensure that their involvements with philanthropy are maximized in the coming years.


Historic Roots

Research on the involvement of the Millennial generation with philanthropy came heavily with the beginning of the Millennial Impact Project in 2009. The Millennial Impact Project works to study how the Millennial generation utilizes their passion to support causes. This initiative has been crucial in sparking conversations regarding Millennials and their philanthropic involvements, inspiring those within the nonprofit sector to begin asking important questions on this topic (The Millennial Impact Project).

With research beginning in 2009, the first Millennial Impact Report was published in 2010. The 2010 and 2011 reports focused heavily on providing insight into understanding interests and motivations of Millennial donors. The 2012 Millennial Impact Report studied Millennials as young professionals working to understand how they are driven by movements and causes. In 2013 research focused on identifying engagement and messaging pieces from nonprofit organizations to Millennial donors. The 2014 and 2015 impact reports took a closer look at Millennials and workplace giving, with the 2015 research specifically focusing on the relationship in how managers encourage employees to give. Most recently, in 2016 the Millennial Impact Project is working to research how presidential election years change the motivations of Millennials to engage passion (The Millennial Impact).


As mentioned previously, the Millennial generation has proven to be strong in their tendencies to work on behalf of a cause in which they are passionate, frequently using philanthropic initiatives as their outlet for this work. The ways in which the Millennial generation has engaged with philanthropy has allowed the nonprofit sector to bring a greater level of impact on important community and society causes and issues. The Millennial generation has shown to be particularly involved with causes that directly impact the lives of other people. They are, generally speaking, most passionate for enacting development and change within realms of the health sector and youth development (Abila Donor Loyalty Study 2016).

Millennials have grown up in a time where the nonprofit sector has skyrocketed, both in terms of the number of registered nonprofits that are in existence as well as in the amount of funds being raised by these organizations. In 1982, when the oldest of the Millennial generation was born, the United States had 264,890 registered nonprofit organizations (Internal Revenue Service). Comparatively, in 2012, the nonprofit sector consisted of 1,557,300 registered organizations (Anheier 101). This rapid increase in the size of the nonprofit sector has given the Millennial generation a front row view of the increasing role that nonprofit organizations are playing in solving social and economic issues across the United States. Additionally, the Millennial generation is entering the workforce at a time when workplace giving and volunteering is emerging as a part of corporate culture. According to the Millennial Impact Report, one third of Millennials surveyed identified that their companies’ policy on volunteering and giving affected their decision to apply. These strong philanthropic influences have led the Millennial generation to widely see and live out the theory that giving back is and should be a natural part of life (Forbes). Because of this, the Millennial generation has, and will continue to have, a strong hand in advocating for societal, economical, and political issues that reflect their values and passions.

As the Millennial generation has grown into high school, college and post-graduate age years, they have shown strong tendencies to giving back to their communities by the ways they have of personally given to, volunteered with, and fundraising on behalf of nonprofit organizations. In 2012, 82% of Millennials made a financial gift to a nonprofit organization (Millennial Impact Report 2013). Each Millennial supports an average of 3.7 nonprofit organizations, and gives financial gifts summing to $238 per person annually (Abila Donor Loyalty Study 2016). The Millennial generation has not only proven to be advocates for change in the causes that they are passionate for by giving of their money but also by giving of their time. In 2012 73% of the Millennial generation volunteered for a nonprofit organization. More than 75% of those who did volunteer said their primary motivation was passion for the cause at hand, and 67% of them were motivated to volunteer because they felt as though their work could make a serious impact on a cause they cared for (Millennial Impact Report 2013). Lastly, the Millennial generation has shown their dedication to making a difference in society by fundraising on behalf of causes. Millennial involvement with philanthropy has brought the emergence of peer to peer fundraising, a form of fundraising that leverages supporters of a cause to fundraise on behalf of an organization, frequently executed using technology (Nonprofit Hub- Peer to Peer Fundraising). Peer to peer fundraising has allowed thousands of Millennials to engage in working for a cause in a whole new way beyond personal giving or volunteering. As much as 70% of Millennials reported that they are willing to raise money on behalf of a nonprofit organization that they care about (Millennial Impact Report 2013). Success of engaging Millennials with peer to peer fundraising initiatives has been evident within Miracle Network Dance Marathons. The Miracle Network Dance Marathon movement has banded together more than 350 colleges across the country to raising funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. These fundraising initiatives are entirely student lead, with the majority of money raised being done so via peer to peer online fundraising initiatives. The largest Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon, Indiana University Dance Marathon, raised $4.15 million in 2016, with 70% of this total being raised via online peer to peer fundraising initiated by student volunteer supporters of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

As mentioned above, the Millennial generation has already made large impacts on societal causes via their involvement with philanthropic initiatives in the nonprofit sector. Although data pertaining to what they have already helped to accomplish within the nonprofit sector is vital to understand, it is even more crucial that those who are involved with the philanthropy are identifying how Millennials can continue to have an even greater impact on nonprofits as they begin to take over the workforce, increasing their earning and spending ability. In order to maximize what is to come in the Millennial generation’s ability to give, nonprofit organizations must identify the trends that have piqued the interest of Millennials in giving thus far, and use these trends for strategic engagement.

To best maximize Millennial generation involvement in the years to come, nonprofit organizations must nail down communication to engage Millennials in the ways in which they best respond. Millennial donors and volunteers have proven to generally prefer communication from nonprofits that is short and concise, but comes more frequently as opposed to communication that is lengthier and communicated less frequently. According to Abila’s Donor Loyalty Study, Millennial donors most frequently responded that they prefer to be communicated with two times or more per month by a nonprofit organization in which they are involved with (Abila Donor Loyalty Study 2016). Additionally, 49% of Millennial generation donors follow one to five nonprofit organizations on social media. 60% of these donors reported feeling most engaged when the nonprofit posted success stories of how the organization has helped its constituents (Millennial Impact Report 2013). It is also important for nonprofit organizations to identify the means by which they are using to communicate with Millennials, but also the content in which they are presenting. Millennials have been shown to feel most engaged with presented information about the cause and its constituents, not the organization. 63% of Millennial donors identified their number one reason for giving as they were passionate for the cause and those it serves (Abila Donor Loyalty Study 2016).

Secondly, nonprofit organizations must work to engage Millennials via workplace giving initiatives set up within corporate workplaces. Many companies not only encourage their employees to participate in philanthropic activity, but they are also willing to match giving or volunteering efforts. In 2014, 87% of Millennials in the workforce responded that they felt encouraged to participate or volunteer in their company’s cause work. Additionally, the third most important factor to Millennials when searching for a job is the company’s involvement with causes. (Millennial Impact Report 2014). The Millennial generation’s passion for making an impact on the causes they believe in has been a large part in the growing workplace giving culture. As the Millennial generation continues to make up a growing percentage of the United States workforce, the opportunity for nonprofit organizations to benefit from workplace giving is paralleling. Within workplace giving, a large opportunity for nonprofit organizations exists within company matching. 69% of Millennial employees stated that they would be more likely to give if their company would match the donation (Millennial Impact Report 2015). Millennial interest in workplace giving is providing a continually increasing opportunity for nonprofit organizations to engage with donors via corporate partnerships.

Lastly, nonprofit organizations must recognize the power of peer influence as an opportunity to engage Millennials. Millennials are increasingly interested in involvement with nonprofit organizations due to the opportunity that their involvement provides them to connect with others. These motivations may be out of meeting new people, or connecting with peers, coworkers or friends who are already within their social circle. 56% of Millennials listed meeting others as a primary motivation for getting involved with a nonprofit organization (Millennial Impact Report 2013). Additionally, 46% of Millennials in the workforce said they would be more likely to give a donation if their co-worker asked them to (Millennial Impact Report 2015). Nonprofit organizations must recognize the growing social component of giving and volunteering. Initiatives targeted to engage with this Millennial trend may be strategies such as engaging donors and volunteers with opportunities to be involved with professional groups or peer to peer fundraising campaigns.


Key Related Ideas

In order to most effectively engage the Millennial generation with giving, it is important for leaders within philanthropy to recognize how the up and coming generation compares and contrasts to those who have come before them. By recognizing the ways in which the Millennial generation prefers to be engaged, as opposed to the preceding generations, nonprofits will gain a better understanding of what practices may be outdated and in need of revision. Additionally, in the spirit of continual development, it will be important to begin to study tendencies of Generation Z, the generation following Millennials, in order to prepare for how nonprofit organizations may develop their current campaigns and initiatives to transition easily to the next stages of donors.

Baby Boomer Generation

The Baby Boomer generation is the generation coming before Generation X. Baby Boomers were born in the years of 1946 to 1964. This generation tends to give most highly to faith based organizations, and is also passionate about social service and health/disease causes. Differently than the Millennial and Generation X generations, Baby Boomers are most highly motivated to give because they believe an organization relies on donations to function, not because of motivation from passion for the cause. Baby Boomers annually donate an average of $478 per person and support an average of 4.1 nonprofit organizations (Abila Donor Study 2016).

Generation X

Generation X is the generation directly before Millennials. This generation was born in the years ranging from 1965-1980. In regards to philanthropic giving, Generation X tends to be most passionate about causes of child development, similarly to the Millennial generation. This generation also holds closely causes of social service and health/disease. Individuals who are a part of Generation X average donating $465 annually per person, and each person supports an average of 3.4 nonprofit organizations (Abila Donor Study 2016).

Generation Z

Generation Z is the generation following the Millennials. There has been no official date range set to determine when this generation begins and ends. According to a recent study done on United States and United Kingdom teenagers, 32% of members in Generation Z have donated to a nonprofit organization and 26% have raised money for a cause (Nonprofit Hub- The Future of Social: Gen Z).

Matures Generation

The Matures generation is the one falling before the Baby Boomer generation. Matures are individuals who were born in 1945 or earlier. Similarly to the Baby Boomer generation, they are most likely to give philanthropically to an organization because of a belief that the organization needs their support, rather than passion driven motivations. Matures donate most heavily to faith based organizations, followed by social service organizations and health organizations. On average an individual in the Mature generation gives $683 annually to a total of 5.5 nonprofit organizations (Abila Donor Loyalty Study 2016).


Important People Related to this Topic

Derrick Feldmann

Derrick Feldman is the lead researcher and founder of the Millennial Impact Project. This project has spanned over a series of years, studying how the Millennial generations supports causes. Derrick has been the CEO of Achieve since July 2008. Achieve is an agency with the mission, “to help you learn more about your audience, inspire thoughtful action and drive lasting change for your mission” (Achieve).

Zac Johnson

Zac Johnson worked as a part of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals from December 2007 to December 2015. Zac served the roles of Director of Dance Marathons, Head of Youth Marketing, and Vice President of Youth Marketing. He played a vital role in leading the Miracle Network Dance Marathon movement, a prime example of peer to peer fundraising used to engage the Millennial generation.   

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is the CEO and Founder of Causecast, a leading provider in technology operations helping workplace giving to reach its highest levels of employee engagement. Ryan founded Causecast in November of 2007.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals has been actively engaging the Millennial generation with peer to peer fundraising initiatives via the Miracle Network Dance Marathon model since 1991, with a more recent sizable growth since 2007.


The Case Foundation

The Case Foundation runs on three primary pillars: revolutionizing philanthropy, unleashing entrepreneurs, and igniting civil engagement. The Case Foundation has been a crucial player in helping The Millennial Impact Project see their Millennial Impact Reports to fruition. (


Reflection Question - Based on the strategies listed in the “Ties to the Philanthropic Sector” section, do you feel as though these are ways in which you would hope to be engaged with a nonprofit organization? How has previous positive engagement with a nonprofit encouraged you to continue to support the cause?



  • Achieve Agency
  • Anheier, Helmut K. Nonprofit Organizations Theory, Management, Policy Second Edition. Routledge, 2014.
  • Dietz, R., Keller, B.. Donor Loyalty Study: A Deep Dive into Donor Behaviors and Attitudes. Abila, 2016.
  • Forbes. Millennials Rule at Giving Back.
  • Internal Revenue Source. Nonprofit Charitable Organizations, 1982.
  • Nonprofit Hub. The Future of Social: Gen Z.
  • Nonprofit Hub. Why Nonprofits Should Consider Hosting a Peer to Peer Fundraising Campaign.
  • The Millennial Impact. Millennial Impact Report 2013.
  • The Millennial Impact. Millennial Impact Report 2014.   
  • The Millennial Impact. Millennial Impact Report 2015.
  • The Millennial Impact. Research.
  • United States Census Bureau. Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse.

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.