Why Nonprofits Need to Talk Millennial, Inspired by ‘Cause for Change’

October 6, 2014

MAP Adviser Kari Dunn Saratovsky authors book to help nonprofits define how to engage Millennial volunteers and donors. 

Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Sarah Albanesi is a sophomore at American University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


“You’re lazy, the lot of yous,” my great-uncle once said to me, referring to my Millennial peers. “Always on your phones and never doing anything productive. You don’t know how to communicate with people face-to-face anymore.”

I’m sure most Millennials have received this criticism at one point in time from a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer. I wanted to tell my great-uncle how many of my friends are communication majors. I wanted to list off the hundreds of student-led organizations that exist on my college campus.

But this seemed trivial. There was no way his perception of Millennials would be altered from me showing him how quickly I can circulate a nonprofit’s cause just by tapping the Facebook app on my phone. I communicate differently than my great-uncle does, but he didn’t seem interested in trying to understand this.

He is not alone in his stubbornness. Kari Dunn Saratovsky, a member of MAP’s Advisory Board, and her co-author Derrick Feldmann directly address this problem in their most recent novel, Cause For Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement.  It provides valuable tips for nonprofits seeking to leverage the rising Millennial generation of donors and volunteers who have a different understanding of what “engaging” with institutions means compared to previous generations.

Millennials are often labeled as the uninvolved generation, partially due to our “clicktivism” practice of liking organizations on Facebook instead of face-to-face engagement with their cause.

The National Conference on Citizenship reported that 55% of Millennials are “not very engaged”, citing that we are less likely to vote, attend religious services, and belong to groups. On the contrary, only “38% of Baby Boomers were placed in this category. Perhaps this is where my great uncle got his information from.

             Source: The National Conference on Citizenship

             Source: The National Conference on Citizenship

In Cause for Change, Saratovsky and Feldmann refute the claim that Millennials are uninvolved. They suggest we bring a different type of cause engagement that the majority of the American workforce has yet to experience. According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, 75% of Millennials “like”, “retweet:, or “share” content on social media.

Furthermore, Saratovksy and Feldmann say that while Millennials may seldom donate large sums of money to an organization like past generations have, we tend to be much more passionate about sharing the cause with friends and family. It is imperative for nonprofits to acknowledge the virality power of peer-to-peer sharing of information, as opposed to institution-to-individual sharing, and how this method of communication can attract deep Millennial engagement with a cause.

The Millennial Impact Report notes that Millennials are not interested in institutions, and are most likely to volunteer when they are influenced by their peers. We do not want to be mere recipients of information and blindly contribute to a cause.

In line with Saratovsky and Feldmann’s argument, a group of about twenty students from my university drove to New York City to participate in the Climate Change March on September 21, 2014. I heard about this through the vast sum of photos and articles they posted on Facebook that described their experience. To me, this personal engagement with the cause is a much more genuine type of involvement than if they had made a financial donation from afar. Millennials want to actively contribute to causes, whether this means sharing a link on Twitter or spending five hours in a car driving from DC to NYC in order to participate in a climate change rally.

Given our generation’s innate desire to share compelling messages within our networks, we have the potential to be the most involved generation to date. This factor helps drive the success of Millennial Action Project’s movement to create a culture of cooperation among the rising generation of Millennial political leaders. The clear guidelines and plethora of evidence in Cause for Change can help institutions, businesses and nonprofits adapt to Millennial communication and working styles to facilitate deeper engagement and participation from our generation.

Sarah Albanesi is an Operations Intern at MAP and a second year student in a 3-Year Bachelor Program in the School of International Service at American University. In the past, Sarah has interned with her school’s chapter of AmeriCorps Jumpstart and with the Massachusetts State Senate. In between her classes and student organizations, Sarah loves to go on long runs around Washington, DC.

As a tax-exempt nonprofit organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Millennial Action Project (MAP) is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislative bodies in regards to policy and legislation. It is important to note guest authors frequently take firm stances on issues and policy matters that are currently being debated by policymakers; when they do, however, they speak for themselves and not for MAP, its board, council or employees.

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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