What We Know About Millennial Grantmakers

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Much is being reported about the Millennial generation, in philanthropy and beyond, and data on Millennials from our recently released 2016 Foundation Operations and Management Report add some interesting points to the discussion.

When asked about the most important issues facing their foundations, Millennial survey respondents were:

  • Twice as likely as the overall survey pool to prioritize field of interest/funding area needs.

As reported by The Millennial Impact Project, “Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not institutions.” They’ve also come of age in an era when social and environmental issues around the globe are more visible than ever before. Could this be part of why our Millennial members emphasize field of interest/funding area needs? Do they feel that there’s more work to be done to address the causes the foundation funds?

  • One-third (34%) more likely to identify a need for greater focus or impact in grantmaking.        

Think back on how often you’ve read the words focus or impact in articles and reports, or the number of times you’ve heard these words at conferences, in meetings, or on phone calls. Millennials are entering philanthropy at a time when focus and impact are being touted as key to effective philanthropy. (Guilty as charged.) In a recent article on six family philanthropy trends to watch in 2016, the National Center for Family Philanthropy included both impact and the growing involvement of Millennials.

Calling all Millennials: Invest in yourself and the future of your foundation at the 2016 Next Gen Fellows Program

Calling all Millennials! Invest in yourself and the future of your philanthropy at the 2016 Next Gen Fellows Program.

This leads me to wonder how the field’s tendencies combined with Millennials’ life experiences are influencing Millennial grantmakers. Are Millennials calling for greater focus or impact in grantmaking because they see and hear these terms more often? Because of experiences they have on site visits, through volunteer work, or via involvement in their communities? Or because of experiences they’ve had within the walls of their foundations? I can only imagine it is a combination of these factors and others.

We also found that foundations with Millennial respondents were:

  • More than four times (41%) more likely to publish grant deadlines online and use a board portal or other secure online access.

Is a foundation more likely to publish grant deadlines online as a result of a Millennial’s involvement? Could this be driven by the integral role that technology has played throughout Millennials’ lives?

  • More than one-quarter (28%) more likely to fund startups.

Could the likelihood of funding startups be linked to Millennials’ involvement? Or Millennials’ openness to change?

  • Nearly one-quarter (24%) more likely to report a vision and/or mission statement.

Were vision and mission statements put into place upon engaging Millennials in the foundation, or did they always exist? Do Millennials associate vision and mission statements with focus and impact? Anecdotally, we know that the process of engaging the next generation can often lead foundations to revise or create governing documents.

In general, the existing research on Millennials suggests that this group has a natural affinity for giving; is open to change; wants to make a difference—through their work, their charity, or supporting family and friends’ charities; and is curious about how their gifts and their work make a positive difference.

If you’re curious to read more, a scan of existing reports on Millennials turns up these:

  • Wise Giving Guide: The Millennial Donor (BBB Wise Giving Alliance)
    A look at “how Millennials participate in philanthropy today and what this might mean for how they relate to charity as they age.”
  • The 2015 Deloitte Millennials Survey
    A look at “tomorrow’s leaders, what they think of leadership today, how businesses operate and impact wider society, and which individual characteristics define effective leaders.”
  • Millennials (Pew Research Center)
    Reports and data on Millennials.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we recognize there are limitations when making generalizations about an entire generation. At the same time, we believe it’s important to keep asking questions. We’ll continue to explore our data and what it can tell us about the Millennial generation.

Related resources

StephenProgram Manager Stephen Alexander designs sessions for our educational programs and creates content. Before coming to Exponent Philanthropy, Stephen worked with Thomson Reuters, Jones Lang LaSalle, and two small nonprofits in Washington, DC. He currently serves on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network’s DC chapter. Follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenALXdc and Exponent Philanthropy @exponentphil.

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