Millennial Volunteers: What You Need to Know

This fall I’m presenting to an organization that is asking themselves (and me), “How do we engage Millennial volunteers?” It’s a question that many companies and nonprofits are asking—and for good reason.

Millennials are often stereotyped as a selfish, entitled, and lazy generation. Au contraire mon frère! After hundreds of interviews with Millennials over the years, I can safely say that this is a socially conscious generation that seems dedicated to making a difference in the world. In fact, according to a 2015 report by the Associated Press, Millennials are more committed to volunteering than young Americans a generation ago (referring to my generation, Gen X).

But the question remains, how do you engage potential Millennial volunteers without alienating the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers who have been volunteering with your organization for so many years?

The 2014 Millennial Impact Report, sponsored by the Case Foundation and prepared by Achieve, offers some great insight. Their #1 finding: Millennials aren’t interested in structures, institutions, or organizations, but rather in the people they help and the issues they support. The key for companies and nonprofits is to tap into those interests.

What follows is some need-to-know trends for engaging Millennial volunteers from The 2014 Millennial Impact Report.

Millennials prefer to connect via technology.
This is kind of a duh, but it's worth mentioning. Millennials use websites and search engines primarily for information-gathering and finding volunteer opportunities. They rely on social media and email for communicating and connecting with their networks while mobile technology gives them instant access to all these channels.

Millennials share in micro ways.
Their interactions with nonprofit organizations are likely to be immediate and impulsive. When inspired, they will act quickly in a number of ways, from small donations to short volunteer stints—provided that the opportunities are present and the barriers to entry are low.

Millennials facilitate (and rely on) peer influence.
Peer influence plays an important role in motivating Millennials to volunteer, attend events, participate in programs, and give. Even if Millennials can’t give as much as other demographic groups, they are nonetheless willing to help raise funds for causes they care about, usually by calling on friends and family.

Millennials volunteer along a continuum of peer support.
Millennials are most likely to get hands-on with causes they care about when organizations offer a range of volunteer opportunities, from one-time commitments to long-term, pro-bono, skills-based opportunities. Ultimately, they want to lend their knowledge, expertise, and time to help nonprofits. And when this generation forms long-term volunteer relationships, they tend to give larger gifts and encourage their friends and family to contribute too.

Millennials give to make an impact.
Millennials are consistent in their desire to see how dollars translate into people helped. They want their contributions, no matter the type or amount, to help achieve tangible results for a cause.

One final thought: according to a recent article by The United Way, 1/3 of Millennials surveyed said that their companies’ volunteer policies affected their decision to apply for a job. Thirty-nine percent said it influenced their decision to interview, and 55% said such policies played into their decision to accept an offer. Since Millennials will comprise 50% of the American workforce by 2020, tapping into this generation’s desire to make a positive difference seems like a no-brainer in not only recruiting but also retaining this generation.