CAF America Insider Blog

The “What” of Millennial Giving: The Rise of Social Media Giving

Honoring the International Day of Charity on September 5th, CAF America published an article last week titled “Generation G: The Millennials and How They Are Changing the Art of Giving”, which explores the giving habits of the three biggest generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. With a focus on the tools popular with  Millennials when giving — through smartphone technology and through workplace payroll deductions — the article explains the charitable trends of this generation and reveals the “how” of Millennial giving. But to truly understand this generation that so much has been written about, it is just as important to look at the “what” of Millennial giving.

Unless you live under a rock, chances are that you have heard of the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. The social media-fueled, ice-water-dumping craze that consumed Facebook and garnered extensive media coverage raised about $220 million dollars globally in 2014 and was continued in August of 2015.[1] Though its origins are murky, the fad is largely credited to Chris Kennedy, a professional golfer, and a Millennial himself.[2]  Nevertheless it has received some criticisms ranging from being too detached from the actual cause (preventing ALS and supporting research) to being wasteful of water given severe droughts in the world. Regardless, the Ice Bucket Challenge has set a new bar for how to use social media for charitable giving, especially considering how Millennials embraced the Challenge and spread it across nearly every corner of the internet.[3]

However, not all social media charity campaigns have to result in catching a cold in August to be effective in raising money and attention from the Millennial generation, of which 90% use Facebook.[4]

One of these was the LiveStrong Bracelet campaign that raised $100 million for cancer research and was driven heavily by social media.[5] According to data from American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation, LiveStrong ranked as the fourth most well-known charity for this generation. The report authored by Barkley, Service Management Group, and The Boston Consulting Group explains this ranking as a result of effective social media that specifically targeted Millennials.[6]

Nor should we forget the day that seemingly out of nowhere, women began posting the color of their bra on Facebook to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the pink campaign, which resulted in the pink-ification of Facebook profiles.[7] In a turn of events that might sound similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, a spokesperson from the Susan G. Komen Foundation stated that they had nothing to do with the viral trends that took over Facebook even as they saw their “likes” on Facebook grow from 135 to 135,000 people within a day.[8]

On the other side of the spectrum, Movember, a combination of the words Moustache and November, is a campaign focused on raising awareness and money for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer and depression and has an extensive presence on social media.[9] Since 2003, the Australian-based organization has raised about AUD $580 million (approximately $408 million USD).[10] Demonstrating their adeptness at social media and their understanding of the Millennials, Movember has an online profile for every participant “where they can share why men’s health is important to them. That page can then be shared on various social media platforms to family, friends, and community in hopes of continuing the conversation”.[11] The 2013 Millennial Impact Report showed that Millennials want to be emotionally connected to a cause.[12] By allowing them to share their own experiences and thoughts on men’s health, Movember has seen a continued commitment by this generation, which has been demonstrated by the amounts they give (and by the ubiquity of facial hair in November).

Social media is at the core of all of these campaigns, but the common essence and the true focus of these initiatives is reaching the Millennials. Of course, the best way to communicate with people born from 1981 to 1995 is through social media platforms and the organizations behind these campaigns have nearly perfected this practice.[13] Nearly. The main issue that has presented itself after the surge in social media campaigns is that these initiatives result in one-time donors and not long-term philanthropists who are truly committed to the goals and mission of an organization.

This has been one of the most common critiques of crazes such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Though ALS was the cause of 2014 and $220 million was raised for it globally, what will happen this year? Next year? What about the next decade?

While only time will tell if the donors involved in the Ice Bucket Challenge will continue to be a major source of support for ALS, organizations like Movember are approaching the spontaneous nature of Millennial giving with the right attitude. By making giving online a personal and emotional experience, but also enjoyable and easy, Millennials will feel more fulfilled when they give and might be inclined to give more than once.

Similarly to the efforts of Movember campaign aiming to move beyond the limited scope of one-time donations, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has been successful in initiating the use of corporate partnerships to turn one-time donors into long-term supporters. CAF America’s previous article on Millennial Giving shows how this generation prefers corporations who partner with nonprofits or are involved in charitable activities. This trend presents the ideal solution for a charity that might be losing traction on social media. By focusing less on the ephemeral web and more on tangible marketing such as pink products that consumers can buy, of which a percentage of proceeds goes to supporting a given cause, the charity will still receive attention and money without being the trendiest topic on social media.

To capture the attention of the Millennial generation is to have it until something newer or trendier comes along. All signs point to this generation foregoing long-term relationships with charities for the sake of causes that matter to them in the moment. Given the successes of the Ice Bucket Challenge, it might be apt to question the time-proven methods of how charities raise funds. Will social media continue to decide the trendiest causes to give to? Can the Millennial generation turn into the philanthropists of their parents’ generation or even their grandparents’? Perhaps an even better question to ask is — should they? Let’s just hope there’s enough ice to go around.






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