If the millennial generation is going to outgrow the buzzword implications of its age bracket, as well as the “selfish” reputation, philanthropy is a pretty good way to start.
Millennials — generally considered anyone born after 1980 — can hardly be generalized. But research shows that the young people in this group like to donate their time and their money, instead of one or the other. And they’ll do it through social media, corralling friends and crowd-sourcing sites to raise millions for causes they’re passionate about — $5, $10, $25 at a time.
“For millennials, it’s about micro-giving and it’s not necessarily the amount they are contributing but the fact they do give,” said Matthew Beatty, director of communications for the Miami Foundation. “Look at the success of Kickstarter campaigns of people looking to raise money for disaster relief. It’s these $5 and $10 and $15 and $20 donations that are amassing to millions. They are no longer coming from traditional philanthropists, from the few donors writing relatively large checks. It’s this democratization of giving and everyone being part of that effort.”
The Miami Foundation knows a thing or two about this. Four years ago, the foundation created Give Miami Day, a 24-hour digital event where people can donate to their favorite charity with just a click. In 2012, Give Miami Day raised $1.2 million in 24 hours. Last year, that jumped to $5.2 million with more than 500 nonprofits participating.
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Jaime Bayo, executive director of the newly minted Out Miami Foundation, called Give Miami Day a “digital flashmob.” He said the social component of crowdfunding pushes more people to donate.
“Philanthropy is in your inbox, it’s on your Facebook, it’s in your Twitter feed,” he said. “On all your digital platforms, you’re thinking about giving.”
Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and former publisher of the Miami Herald, said millennials approach charity in a radical new way.
“I think younger givers think problems can be solved,” he said. “I think older generations gave to provide safety nets for problems that weren’t going away.”
Felecia Hatcher of Code Fever credits her organization’s youth with pivoting to a new mission. Hatcher said her group formerly taught coding to underprivileged kids and now trains adults in basic computer literacy.
Teaching children to code taught them sustainable skills, but “you won’t really see the true benefits of that for the next six to eight years,” she said. Whereas with teaching adults computer literacy, “within a year or so you’ll see a direct impact on their lives and the community.”
“We want to have a more immediate impact on the job front,” she said.
Bayo, from Out Miami, said that unlike older, more established charities, his organization relies primarily on individual donations. Too young to qualify for grants and heavy-hitting corporate sponsors, Out Miami depends on small personal donations from younger people, who often serve as volunteers.
“You have the people who give the money and you have the people who do the work. I think that’s how the generation before us saw it — it’s one or the other,” he said. “It taps into that millennial mindset, that if you really care about something, you won’t just donate money, you’ll give your time.”
When his organization first arrived on the scene, older members of the LGBT charity community complained to Bayo, asking why another organization needed to exist. But when the naysayers arrived at the first Out Miami event, Bayo said they recanted.
“It’s challenging because everyone feels like there’s a little pie, and if someone else comes in to eat the pie they’re going to get a smaller slice,” he said. “Millennials are a totally new pie.”
They were raised on community service, he says, from their earliest elementary school days through high school, college and grad school.
Angelica Pardo volunteered with her sorority — Delta Phi Epsilon — as a student at Florida International University. She raised money for charities like ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), the American Cancer Society and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“When I graduated from FIU, I guess I just wanted to keep going,” she said.
Pardo is on the 10-member board for LINC (Lead, Impact, Network, Change) a subgroup of volunteers from United Way. The group came about to attract younger people who couldn’t quite manage the $1,000 yearly donation minimum for the older group, Young Leaders. LINC members are only on the hook for $250 annually.
Their kickoff event on Nov 18 will introduce them to the Miami community. Although LINC, like YL, will rely on the established social-media channels of United Way, Pardo said her committee is considering bringing a younger social-media app to the table — Snapchat.
Young Leaders have built a name for themselves with their annual mural paintings for Miami-Dade public schools and their yearly event, Read for the Record, where volunteers attempt to top the world record for the number of volunteers reading to children at once.
Matthew Anderson, head of the nearly thousand-member strong group, said Young Leaders blend charity, leadership education and networking for young people through corporate engagement and partnership with groups like Goodwill Enterprises and the Girl Scouts of America.
“We give [millennials] the perfect way to set down roots in Miami and give them opportunities in the community,” Anderson said. “It’s great to be around people who care about the community.”
However, some say the breathless praise for the millennial philanthropy effort shouldn’t be credited only to this specific generation. Elliot Jones, director of community engagement for his family’s foundation, Caged Bird Legacy, began his career in philanthropy at a grassroots non-profit in Liberty City, where “you can really feel it in the community when you make a difference.”
Jones, 29, then headed to Ashoka, a global nonprofit group that supports social entrepreneurs across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, as well as North and South America.
There, he saw people “bringing real change, changing laws. They were doing stuff on a scale I never thought possible,” Jones said. He made his final jump to his family’s foundation where, as Maya Angelou’s grandson, he sits on the other side of the table.
After more than a decade in philanthropy, Jones said he’s observed a level of naivete in younger people and new charities. He called it “all gas, no brakes.”
“It’s ‘I’m gonna find a way to change the world, no ifs, ands, or buts about it,’” he said. “As you get older, you see a bigger picture and you see the actors in the picture.”
Jones said he firmly believes a charity needs a mixture of both to succeed, and he points to organizations like Teach For America that harness the energy of young people and point it in effective directions.
Above all, Jones said he wants to see the philanthropy community in Miami adapt to help the “hard-working young people build careers and put down roots.”
“This industry is built on passion,” he said. “You can really make a lifestyle, a career out of service.”