For Millennials, It’s About What You Do with Your Life

Strategic Philanthropy
For Millennials, It’s About What You Do with Your Life
Monday, July 21, 2014

Do you remember the Y2K craze -- the panic and fear leading up to midnight on December 31 that everything would come crashing down upon us? Many of my school years revolved around this monumental turning of the calendar. That time promised the start of something new, the opportunity to do things differently and make a positive impact on a new millennium. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Millennials continue to get so much attention these days and have been the focus of much research.

I’m right at the edge of the generational shift from Generation X to Millennials. As a “cusper” I have an interesting vantage point from which to view these generational shifts and trends. My peers and I have made it through our first jobs and are at the forefront of a group that will make up half of the workforce by 2020. Many companies are wondering how to attract Millennials as employees, and, perhaps more importantly, how to retain them. For one, it’s not all about the money.

Recently, Achieve, in partnership with The Case Foundation, unveiled the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, focusing this year on what encourages Millennials to participate in company “cause work,” which they define as “the programs and initiatives companies execute that help people and communities.” The research found that as a generation, Millennials are interested in working for companies that are creating a positive impact on society. They tend to engage in their jobs with their full selves – thus, they want that time to be spent doing something that in some way is making the world a better place. In addition, they desire to do something that engages their passions and skill-sets. 

Philanthropic opportunities, and a company fundamentally embracing the causes in which they and their employees engage, can help give “more meaning to the job than just a paycheck.” As one respondent wrote, “Life isn’t about the money you make, it’s about what you do with your life to impact others.” The key here is the emphasis on what you do with your “life,” not just what you do with your “money.” It was not surprising to us at The Philanthropic Initiative that the report found Millennial employees are most engaged when they are given opportunities to contribute their skills and talents to a philanthropic endeavor, rather than just their money. I doubt companies found this surprising either, but there still seems to be disconnect between Millennial expectations and corporate reality.

An article in the New York Times last week, entitled “Motivating Corporations to do Good,” suggests that corporate philanthropy can only go so far in a world where profits remain the primary goal. Citing Enron’s philanthropic activities during its period of scandal and deception, the article claims, “Companies may behave better where it is most visible and not where it is less visible.” Would a Millennial have blown the ethics horn? That’s a loaded question, but there’s certainly demand for a higher degree of transparency today than there was in 2001.

During MCON 2014, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, warned that Millennials will see through philanthropic activities done simply for PR purposes. At TPI, we have found praise and recognition is not enough for companies to be effective in philanthropic giving. The greatest impact comes from aligning business goals and philanthropic goals – philanthropic endeavors that are reflected in the company’s own work and purpose. This recent research places that spotlight on Millennials, but at TPI we find this resonates across the board with employees and customers. It is crucial for companies to demonstrate that, along with their employees and their customers, they are also working to make the world a better place.

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