Throughout history, there has been a tendency for older generations to view their younger counterparts as somehow less—less ambitious, less hard-working, less grateful, less resilient. The present youngsters, including ‘Millennials’ and members of ‘Generation Z,’ are no exception.
Depending on the source, Millennials include people born between 1980 and 1996, while Generation Z starts in 1997. Of the two, Millennials have received a particularly bad rap, with some labelling them as selfish, entitled, and even lazy. Older members of Generation Z have received similar criticisms.
But is there merit to this image, or have people in their late teens to late 30s been unfairly characterised? After all, in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, members of these same generations are often the most vocal about social issues such as the need to protect the earth, ensure all people have access to quality healthcare, and reduce gun violence in schools.
In order to give Millennials and Gen Zer’s a fair shake, we must first understand the brave new world they are coming from. Unlike previous generations, both were born into eras of rapidly advancing technologies; many of them, particularly those born in the 1990s, cannot remember a time without internet, mobile phones, 24-hour news cycles, and over the last decade, social media.
Millennials and Gen Zer’s also have more opportunities to experience international education and travel, and to live or work abroad than their parents and grandparents did. Of course, this does not apply to all young people, a large segment of whom continue to face economic and other barriers to such opportunities. But the general trend has been greater access to these experiences.
The combination of rapid technological advancements and greater access to immersive international experiences has created a cohort of teenagers and young adults with a more global perspective and identity. As part and parcel of their global outlook, this group brandishes a strong sense of activism and social justice. And though idealism is by no means exclusive to Millennials or Gen Zer’s, their approach to it is more pragmatic. Members of both generations tend to not only hold idealistic beliefs about the world, but to search for new tools and means to action their beliefs—and to press boundaries in the process.
In other words, many Millennials and Gen Zer’s are social innovators who won’t take “no” for an answer.
The unique worldviews and mindsets of these generations are perhaps most apparent in their approach to philanthropy. Whereas philanthropy has historically been driven by the principle of benevolence, Millennials and Gen Zer’s are keen to try new models, to focus on results and impact, and to drive social change through entrepreneurship and applied business methods, as cited by both the Wings Global Philanthropy Report and BNP Paribas 2017 Individual Philanthropy Report. They want not only to financially support endeavours that create change, but to be hands-on and contribute their skills and talents to the process. For them, philanthropy goes beyond providing money to a cause or group, to taking an active role in the cause or group’s work.
Millennials and ‘Generation Zer’s’ around the world are more likely to have a global perspective and identity than their older counterparts, and to express these identities through their choice of job, their online and offline activism—and in some cases, their philanthropy. Here, a young Filipino activist participates in a rally to promote LGBTI rights.
These values of actively creating positive change and contributing to the greater good are so ingrained in the identities of many Millennials and Gen Zer’s that they often influence not only how they vote and which causes they support, but where they choose to work. Members of these generations are more likely to favour an employer that supports charitable causes; be more aware of—and hold higher expectations around—a business’s purposes and social impact; and, in some cases, choose a profession in the charitable sector.
Millennials and Gen Zer’s also tend to want to see change happen rapidly and to start being philanthropically active at a younger age. These trends are likely linked to having grown up in a fast-paced technological environment. Their use of social media no doubt plays a large role in this pattern, and in their social-mindedness more broadly.
The use of social media platforms is how most Millennials and Gen Zer’s both learn about issues and share that learning with others. They also tend to utilise their social media presence to publicly show their affiliation with a cause, and in many cases, see their online identities as inextricably linked to their offline identities. Their very public shows of involvement in the causes they support is a marked departure from previous generations, who were often more discreet in their philanthropy—with the exception, of course, of those who more openly affiliated with their giving through the naming of buildings, foundations, or other entities.
So what does all this mean for the future of philanthropy and the social causes it fuels—especially for those of us seeking to drive those causes forward? It means that in order to rally the next generation’s skills, energy, and financial resources to support these causes, we need to shift our approach to inspiring and engaging Millennials and Gen Zer’s. And it means that if we can do this effectively, we have ample reason to hope that they will help us build a more just and equitable world.
Indeed, the next generation of philanthropists shows much promise. Their belief in their own ability to create change bodes well for the complex world problems they seek to address through their proactive giving, as does their emphasis on tangible results and impact. And interestingly, their generosity appears to be on par with, if not greater than, that of their predecessors: The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report: 2015, states that 84% of Millennials made charitable contributions in 2014 and 70% of them volunteered their time. These figures are expected to increase over Millennials’ lifetimes, which paints a very positive picture for the future of philanthropy—especially given that Millennials are now the largest living generation.
Kate Fanning is an Outreach and Engagement Officer at the Fund for Global Human Rights—a non-profit organisation that supports more than 300 local groups defending dignity, justice, and equality in over 25 countries worldwide. By moving financial and technical resources to those on the frontlines of human rights struggles, the Fund for Global Human Rights helps build stronger, more resilient movements that can take on abusive actors, practices, and policies so that all people can live with dignity.
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