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Millennials and The Rise of Virtual Volunteering

Written by Molly Talbert | on April 7, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Millennials and the rise of virtual volunteering

How would you finish this sentence: “Millennials are _____”? Maybe “selfish”? A lot of people might choose “lazy.” How about, “generous”? Didn’t expect that, did you?

It turns out, as Millennials take #blessed selfies and appear entitled at work, they’re actually giving more time and money to charity than previous generations. Maybe Millennials aren’t as bad as the media makes them out to be.

How are millennials different?

According the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 70 percent of millennials volunteer at least one hour a year, and 37 percent volunteer up to 10 hours a year. And, in addition to volunteering time, 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014. But their motivators -- and the types of opportunities they find inspiring -- are different than previous generations.

Historically, previous generations were motivated by their companies to volunteer or donate money to a cause -- they took their cues from their manager or executives and contributed to causes supported by their organization. It wasn’t uncommon to have donations deducted from paychecks -- easy, simple and lets you rest easy at night.

Millennials are different. They’re more critical of where their time and money goes.

They don’t feel inspired by their employers the same way, and they’re not generous in the same ways. Instead of looking up to their boss or CEO, millennials are much more likely to be inspired by a peer or someone they work closely with -- those are the people they take their cues from. People they see everyday, spend time with and admire. And instead of regularly having money deducted from their paycheck, Millennials really care about where that money is going -- it needs to be a cause they believe in.

The same goes with volunteering time. Clearly Millennials enjoy volunteering -- so many of them do it. But, as with charitable donations, they don’t donate time for any cause. Millennials are 77 percent more likely to volunteer if they can use specific skills or expertise -- and can see how they’re contributions help.

Fitting these insights into your community

So how can you harness these insights and engage Millennial volunteers in your community?

Incorporating volunteer opportunities into your community is a great way of alerting all members, regardless of their generation, that opportunities exist -- often times, people would like to volunteer, but have no idea it’s an option. Including volunteer opportunities on your community works especially well with Millennials since it’s a great place to engage a digitally savvy, community oriented generation.

And community ties into the Millennial Impact Report’s key findings.

First, community engages the social aspect of volunteering that Millennials find important -- or at least that peer-to-peer inspiration kick starts them. Start conversations on your community about volunteering, invite friends to join, or create opportunities where members can see other members who signed up. Maybe a member is on the fence about one opportunity, but will actually sign up when they see someone they know is volunteering.

Second, your organization is a cause they believe in. True, Millennials are more discerning than previous generations, but you’ve already won them over -- they’re in your community, participating and contributing. Give them volunteer opportunities since you area cause they care about -- Millennials don’t give time and money to just anyone, but are generous when they’re inspired and see how their contributions make a difference.

Finally, Millennials enjoy volunteer opportunities that require specific skills or expertise they can offer. You can post simple volunteer opportunities in your community -- like handing out water bottles at an event -- but there is also so much opportunity to crowdsource help from experts for bigger projects.

Have you ever heard of cognitive surplus? It’s basically, “many hands make light work.” It’s the idea that if many people -- your members -- contribute a little bit of their time, you can affect massive change and complete enormous projects. Every time you fill out a reCAPTCHA (to prove you’re not a robot), you’re actually helping digitize every book ever published. And, as you work your way through Duolingo, you help translate articles. These are all huge tasks that require skill -- but become manageable when volunteers contribute a few minutes every once in awhile.

Your organization’s goals might not be as lofty as digitizing every book or teaching everyone in the world a second language, but I’m sure you have other projects. Like publishing a blog post every day. Or translating a new study from English to Russian. Rather than paying content writers or translators, crowdsource your community. Engage members who want to contribute and have valuable skills to offer. The best part is, these opportunities are virtual and quick, lowering the barrier for volunteering -- there’s no need to take a day off work or travel.

Volunteering builds community

The more members engaging in community, the healthier the community is -- and the more likely they are to stay. If volunteering is part of that engagement, it’s even better for your organization and proves community’s real, monetary value.

And, as the largest generation in history, Millennials are bound to be part of your community and volunteer groups. Community and virtual volunteering -- like translating or writing blog posts -- are good ways of engaging this demographic in a frictionless, meaningful way.

Topics: Millennials & Communities, Engagement, Volunteerism

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