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Millennial Power

How the next generation is shaping the future of philanthropy.



When it comes to philanthropy in the social media age, Millennials know that donating their voices and their social networks makes a difference.

Take 33-year-old lawyer Hassan Elrakabawy, a former San Diegan currently living in Newport Beach. On a Sunday evening in September, he posted something other than a family photo or witty status update on his Facebook timeline. It was a link to a fundraising campaign organized by charity: water, a nonprofit with a mission to bring clean, safe drinking water to developing countries. In this particular instance, charity: water was raising money to help West Africa’s Sahel Region.

“The water thing struck a nerve with me because of our drought in California,” Hassan explained. And how did he learn about the campaign? “I got a message from a friend of mine who was spreading the word about it.”

According to the Millennial Impact Project, an ongoing study by the think tank Achieve on charitable habits of Millennials, 20- and 30-somethings like Hassan are motivated to look into and, ultimately, act on causes when a friend or peer endorses a nonprofit with a compelling mission.

This isn’t to say that Millennials aren’t also dipping into their wallets or volunteering for causes important to them. Eighty-seven percent of employed Millennials surveyed by Achieve in 2013 said they donated to nonprofits. That same percentage also felt encouraged to volunteer or participate in their company’s cause work. But in a time when a video or meme can be shared once, then twice, then hundreds of times via the click of a button, Millennials recognize that appealing to their online community on behalf of a charity is as important as donating money, time, and skills.

“If there’s one thing you can do, it’s share a worthy cause. It costs you nothing and that’s what causes need—people power.”

“If there’s one thing you can do, it’s share a worthy cause. It costs you nothing and that’s what causes need—people power,” said Hassan, who posted the charity:water link after donating funds. “It’s one of the coolest things about the world today, that way we can communicate with friends new and old instantaneously, and hopefully use that to spread important messages.”

Per Achieve’s study, Millennials are also prone to support multiple issues rather than organizations. Over the past year, Hassan contributed to a friend’s efforts to pay the medical bills for a sick uncle, an old middle school classmate’s fundraising campaign to help a baby with a serious heart defect, and to Music For Humanity, a music festival two friends put on in Orange County to raise money for those impacted by war in Syria.

“I have found it encouraging that Millennials’ passion and interest in causes is so great,” said Derrick Feldmann, president and lead researcher of Achieve. He’s also encouraged to see nonprofits use Achieve’s findings to connect with this generation. “We have seen more organizations spending time to refine their message and ways they can involve a Millennial with their organization.”

“Millennials are the next generation of museum-goers and supporters,” said Leah Straub, communications and marketing manager for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Two initiatives MCASD has maintained to draw in Millennials include free admission to everyone 25 and younger (thanks to support from the Qualcomm Foundation), and Thursday Night Thing (TNT), a quarterly event that features live music, cocktails, and tours of current exhibitions. “They are a very important audience for us and we are committed to engaging them.”

The San Diego Museum of Art is also exploring ways to attract this generation. In addition to its quarterly Culture & Cocktails event, SDMA has partnered with its sculpture garden tenant café, Panama 66, to host Painting on Tap, an after-hours workshop series combining gallery tours, craft beer and food, and art-making.

“The process, information, peer engagement, and onsite involvement of a Millennial is noteworthy because it is likely the future of how causes can generate awareness and support,” said Feldmann. “This is a great time for causes that want to engage an interested generation in doing social good work.”

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