Millenials, the generation born 1977-1993, are wending their way through college these days in various undergraduate and graduate programs. The most educated generation in history, Millennials have been very, very good to the higher education bottom line.
I have worked in higher ed for about seven years now, and the rise of the Millenials has been a much ballyhooed topic in university circles. What do they want? How do we attract them to our school? When did they start all that “LOL” gibberish?
This quixotic guessing game has had us looking at articles and media reports broadly defining the Millenials as more giving, caring and socially-conscious than their Generation X predecessors or their Baby Boomer parents. According to the Points of Light Institute, a national nonprofit volunteer organization, this generation of do-gooders is so committed to social causes that 61 percent would prefer to work for a company that offers volunteer opportunities. For nonprofit organizations, it may appear that Millenials are a gift from heaven, ready to roll up their sleeves and volunteer for their favorite cause.
A closer examination reveals a more complicated portrait of a generation. A 2012 article in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that today’s young people are actually more interested in money and fame than Gen Xers and Boomers at the same age. While Millenials perform more community service than generations past, the article’s authors determined this is a function of relatively new school requirements (obligations put in place by the older generations). A skeptic might think Millenials want their employers to provide volunteer opportunities because young people don’t want to do it on their own time.
I’m not that skeptical. The generation has a lot on its collective mind. Most Millenials worry about their finances, struggle to find work in a down economy, and are saddled with a wealth of student loan debt. Giving back probably has slipped down the list a bit.
For nonprofits, the Millenial story is a telling one. This huge generation, second only in population to the Boomers, is the lifeblood of future giving and volunteering. Since Millenials indicate they want to give back through the corporate social responsibility (CSR) avenues established by their employer patrons, nonprofits should target these employers and CSR programs that much more fervently. Meanwhile, nonprofits can develop personal relationships with young corporate volunteers. One day, their economic fortunes have got to turn, and they will become the donors who deliver those whopping individual gifts 10 or 20 years from now.
I know a decade or two sounds like a long time. But I’m a Gen Xer. We’re in it for the long haul.
Larry Hoffman is executive director of Marymount University’s Reston Center, offering a Graduate Program in Nonprofit Management.