Millennials on a Mission: Idealism, Impact, Innovation.

Originally published July 2014

A Recap of MCON14, the Millennial Impact Conference.

Last week, 1000s of leaders in philanthropy, social enterprise and technology joined together for two days of inspiration from our next generation of leaders. The forum was MCON14, also know as the Millennial Impact Forum.

For two inspiring days, transformational young leaders like Dale Partridge of Sevenly, Mo Scarpelli of Rake Films, Michael McGee of Starter League, Jonny Dorsey of Impact Careers Initiative, and Jake Brewer of Change.Org shared their perspectives on giving - and living meaningfully - in a connected world.

MCON takes place on the heels of the release of the Millennial Impact Report, an annual look at the Millennial generation (now ages 20-33) and the ground they are staking out as they mature into adulthood.

Derrick Feldman, President of Achieve, the researchers behind the Millennial Impact Project, said in his opening remarks: “We don’t study Millennials because they’re a part of the culture. We study them because they’re defining the culture.”

There will be lots written about the data in the report, so I won’t dig into that in this post, but here are a few juicy facts:

  • By the year 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce
  • 91% of the female Millennials surveyed donated money to charities, and 84% of the male Millennials had
  • Nearly half (47%) of the Millennials surveyed had volunteered for a cause or nonprofit in the past month.
  • 22% of Millennials surveyed gave more than $500 to nonprofits in 2013 and 12% gave more than $1,000.

Transforming the Culture

MCON anchored the conference around key lessons learned since launching the research in 2010.

  1. Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not institutions. And, they prefer to perform smaller actions before fully committing to a cause.
  2. Millennials are influenced by the decisions and behaviors of their peers. Peer influence plays an important role in motivating Millennials to volunteer, attend events, participate in programs and give.
  3. Millennials treat their time, money, and assets as having equal value. Millennials view both their network and their voice as two additional types of assets they can offer a cause. Aided by technology, an individual who donates his or her voice may still give skills, time, and money.
  4. Millennials need to experience a cause’s work without having to be on site. In 2013, more than 60% of respondents said they felt most invested in a cause when the nonprofit shared a compelling story about successful projects or the people it helps.

Throughout the conference, I noted three other key themes that should get you thinking.

  1. Millennials do not see boundaries between work/play/family. As Jean Case related from a recent conversation with a Millennial, “I want to bring my full self to everything I’m about.” So employers, nonprofits, brands and Millennials are joined together in a cycle of engagement that unifies them in a way that did not exist in prior generations.
  2. Millennials are seeking authenticity, and they are skeptical of ‘press-release’ good news, without human stories and data to back it up.
  3. They believe in the power of technology to drive real community change.

The Future is Here

If you are a business or nonprofit leader, why should you focus on Millennials, whose resources are small relative to their older counterparts?

It’s simple. They have the power to generate passion, engagement and purchases/donations for your organization. (And, in less than 5 years, the oldest among them will be moving into their peak earning years.)

As Derrick Feldmann puts it when discussing the social sector, “It is not overstating to say that a big part of the nonprofit sector’s future relies on its ability to respond to these young people’s charitable inclinations.”

Further, the strategies for engaging Millennials are no longer just preferences. They have become the norm for effective communication with all ages.

Here are three key strategies for engaging them - and all generations - effectively:

Your website has to live and breathe

With the rise of social media platforms, many organizations tend to focus their online outreach, updates, and photos on these platforms, often neglecting their core website. But leaving out of date or generic information on a website is a major turn-off for Millennials.

Your website is the center of your online universe - the sun to your orbiting social media planets. It needs to be just as robust, appealing and up-to-date as all your other other online environments.

Also, your website has to be mobile-friendly. Mobile access is on the rise as 87% of Millennials are carrying smartphones everyday. A mobile-friendly online environment will keep mobile users engaged and enable impulsivity from an impulsive generation.

Millennials are results-driven

Millennials want to see the impact they are having immediately - they want results. Millennials have the desire to help and make a difference and are led by their passion. So it's the passion, the underlying cause, that will inspire them - not the institution or organization.

Be specific in your call-to-action and show tangible results. Millennials don't have a lot to give or spend (yet), so they want to do the most with what they have.

Keep it simple and concise

It's noisy out here. We are all overwhelmed daily with messaging trying to sell us or convince us to take action. Millennials will not spend a lot of time reading an email campaign (especially if it's too text heavy) or media messaging that is complex or unclear. They want honesty, brevity, and a picture or two that draws them in.

If you want results, focus on a single, simple, clear call-to-action in communications.