In terms of charitable giving, Millennial's remain significantly unremarkable. The generation was only responsible for 14% of all donations in 2018, with the average donor being 64 years old – much older than the oldest Millennial. Is their reluctance a sign of self-prioritization or can prosocial behaviour be found in alternative areas? To understand this diverse generation, let’s dive into their background and characteristics to search for possible explanations.
Who are Millennials?
If you have heard of Post Malone or David Guetta, but not of Roy Clark and Neil Sedaka, then you are probably a Millennial. For a more general categorization, they’re said to be born between 1981 and 1996— so between 25-40 years old in 2021.
As a wildly debated generation, Millennials have been called many things, like Generation Y (as they follow Gen X) or echo boomers (as the children of baby boomers). More subjectively, they have been coined the “me me me generation”, as they are supposedly more entitled and selfish than any other demographic cohort.
If anything, Millennials are incomparable in their achievements: boasting better education overall, as well as adapting to the drastic changes of the world, they are the first to grow up with computers, smartphones, and social media platforms. There are changes found within, too, as they are less likely to be married, or at least decide to do so at a much later age, and are characterized as needing more time to focus on themselves. Could that be a reason for the generational decline in generosity?
Self-obsessed and sceptical
Being self-focused does not necessarily take away from feeling socially responsible – in all seriousness, for younger generations, caring has become cool. A prime example is climate change activism: Millennials are more active than previous generations, rallying alongside the younger Gen Z.
So even if Millennials are more narcissistic, they are also the generation that deeply care: Climate change, poverty, political freedoms. With the world only one fingertip away, the information-seeking generation is more “woke” than the ones before.
This may be because it is becoming increasingly difficult to collectively diffuse information, and Millennials enjoy fewer restrictions in their information access. With the power to decide independently about what to consume, there are bound to be information asymmetries.
When choosing bloggers over newspapers, YouTubers over television, and podcasts over radio, they are creating a mind and world of their own. This preference can be explained through the lack of faith in traditional institutions – which also translates into scepticism towards establishments that are charities or foundations.
Lacking in charitable confidence
Despite ample evidence that administative/overhead costs makes projects much more effective, the number one reason for not donating to charities in the U.K. is still that 'money might be used on administration' instead of the cause — a worry that is found globally.
Charitable confidence has been declining for years, which is supposedly a sign of an even bigger decline in socially-driven values. People yearn for reasurrance and transparency. They want to trust again.
Seeing the direct impact of donations is critical for many of the younger generations. And although this makes sense, true positive impact is not something you can do overnight —measuring impact accurately takes many years. People who claim otherwise are usually measuring output (we built ten schools) rather than impact (literacy rates went up 45%).
It's not that Millennials are a particularly condemning generation — charities aren’t exactly innocent, either. There is a long list of charity fraud cases, giving way to guidelines and badges to ensure accountability and trustworthiness. But even established charities have faced criticism and made headlines with full-fledged scandals, like the Oxfam Haiti allegations, the Trump Foundation’s misused funds and the White Helmet fraud that involved the Dutch government.
While there are ways for charities to bounce back after scandals, many donors write them off as unreliable institutions, dissuading them from investing their hard-earned money. Many more have found ways to bypass this hurdle.
Crowdfunders instead of donors
Millennials are evidently and obviously more likely to donate online; on a website, through a mobile device, or a social media platform— even partly overtaking the younger Gen Z. Most interestingly, they are almost twice as engaged in crowdfunding than other generations; which is an especially disruptive force in charitable giving.
Powered mostly by Millennials, more than half prefer to use a crowdfunding platform to donate directly to an individual, rather than a charitable organisation. They believe that this way the money goes entirely to the actual cause, instead of getting lost in administration.
Some say that Milennials have mastered the donation cycle on their own— by donating directly to the end beneficiary. But crowdfunding platforms are not regulated. Anyone can sign up; so inevitably scams, money laundering, and misuse of funds are commonplace. The rise of crowdfunding is said to potentially remove charities from the giving landscape altogether. But is removing experts and legal safeguards such a good idea?
The U.S. currently has almost 90.000 charities and the Netherlands, which is approx. 237 times smaller, boasts more than 10.000. Generosity has become a challenge, and we all know from our nightly Netflix scroll how decision paralysis can feel.
What binge-watchers and potential donors have in common, is that many need guidance — or at least a nudge into the right direction. In contrast to entertainment, choosing a trustworthy charity is even more taxing. The choice to help either a local or global cause, an environmental or humanitarian issue, financial matters aside– these decisions truly matter. People don’t want to make the wrong choice. It doesn’t help that Millennials are considered the most indecisive generation.
Considering the financial situation of the majority, some prefer not donating at all to donating to the wrong charity. Charities are dependent on generosity – but generous spenders usually have one common trait: they have something to give.
According to multiple reports, like this one in Canada, Millennials specifically are not as well off as you would think. Even though they might be better educated and informed, they were still subjected to two major crises (now three), and might be facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression. Accounting for those drawbacks, does the statement that Millennials don’t give to charity still ring true?
Cash-strapped and cautious
The amount of philanthropic giving has been rising since 1978, but the actual number of people that give is contracting. In the Netherlands, generosity of households has steadily declined since 1999, according to a 2019 study. Reasons are decline in religiosity, and prosocial/altruistic values in general— all factors that aren't limited to the millennial generation.
A recent study used panel data from charitable organisations to reveal whether the assumptions about Millennials as the most selfish generation are true – yielding only limited results. While Millennials are less likely to make donations at all compared to their predecessors, considering socioeconomic factors, if they do choose to donate, they seem to give substantially more.
The researchers emphasize that the generation is not easy to put in a box – but recommend a more nuanced view. In conclusion, as a cash-strapped generation marked by historic misfortunes, they are remarkably generous, while remaining cautious enough to check out a charity before making a donation
Convincing through candour and convenience
So how do you appeal to Millennials as a charity? Next to considering their critical nature and lack of funds, they also value convenience — straight-forward services like the donation app ShareTheMeal or buying over Amazon Smile. These are examples of how donating can be done parenthetically and even in small amounts. Social media platforms have also jumped on the bandwagon, especially Facebook fundraisers, which are becoming more common.
These efforts are actively combating the growing mistrust and uncertainty troubling potential donors. At Kinder, we aim to mitigate mistrust by proving charities’ accountability and effectiveness, and encouraging them to be more transparent about how they spend their money. Because we believe that every person has a cause they care about and would like to support in some way, and often, the only barrier is the lack of knowledge about how to do so.
With our United Actions, you can deep-dive into the issues you are invested in, as well as read about our charity evaluations, to be informed in their transparency, organisational skills, and accountability.
While the ways Millennials engage and participate in prosocial behaviour may be different than in previous generations, the motivation remains unfazed. Younger generations may be less easy to sway for long-term contributions, but can be reached through digital channels in more convenient, one-click-away opportunities.
If enough information and satisfying details are provided, specifically that the donated money will be used consciously to make the desired impact, Millennials can be more easily reached than assumed. After all, they do believe that the world can become a better place for all of us – and that remains the most important trait a generous person carries.
Written by Cindy Zheng