Millennials Want Gratification From Giving

Anyone with a credit card can buy pretty much anything they want. That could be why Millennials crave experience and impact when it comes to their charitable giving.

Sarah Landman, senior vice president at Insightful, and Abigail Wright, partner with JWright Companies, shared some insights during a session titled “What Do Millennial Millionaires Want?” at the recent Association for Health Philanthropy (AHP) annual International Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C.

“We’re sort of the epitome of Millennials, those who came of age around 2000, not knowing if the world will end or if Y2K will mess everything up,” Wright said. “Part of our goal is to expand your view of who this generation is and what’s important to them.” 

Elder Millennials are pushing 40 at this point, and with almost 80 million of them, Millennials comprise about one-quarter of the U.S. population. There are an estimated 700,000 Millennial millionaires, according to Landman. That number is set to go up dramatically during the next 15 to 30 years as a result of the great wealth transfer, expected to be anywhere from $30 trillion to $60 trillion. “Everyone has a different idea of what that might be,” she said.

Landman interviewed six Millennial millionaires, both men and women who are active in philanthropy, ranging in age from mid-20s to late-30s, who are either self-made or have family wealth. She stressed that her findings weren’t data driven but rather an aggregation of a series of conversations. “We care about impact more than we care about institutions,” Landman said.

“We value experiences over things,” Wright said. That could be the result of a digital world, where “sometimes we’re more removed from people than before,” she said. If you can connect your organization while providing some kind of experience for Millennials, that will be key, Wright said, adding that authentic interactions that are genuine and rare are important for Millennials.

Peers can heavily influence Millennials, whether it’s their buying habits or their giving, Wright said. “We’re probably the first generation to have ‘influencer’ as an actual career. That should tell you a lot about our generation,” she quipped.

Peer influence can be both positive and negative, Wright said. For instance, the Tide pod challenge — in which people ate detergent pods — is an example of terrible peer influence. A more positive example was the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised more than $115 million for the ALS Association and related charities.

Millionaire Millennials give to organizations that have some connection, usually family members affected by a disease and they have a strong desire to find a cure. They see the impact and want to get involved, Landman said. When it comes to healthcare philanthropy, she said five of the six Millennials supported organizations pretty strongly, both locally and nationally. The one interviewee who did not said that they had never been asked or engaged on a personal level, according to Landman, even though it was someone who represents a family foundation.

While most of the half-dozen Millennial Millionaires didn’t have any “worst” giving experiences to share, Landman said a couple of them did complain about instances around a general delay of acknowledgement, lack of transparency about what some leadership gifts accomplished, and a lack of reporting after the fact. 

Wright recalled her own worst giving experience, having attended a fundraising gala where it felt like she was being held captive. The event was extremely long, boring and the founder “droned on for more than an hour” in an extremely self-congratulatory way, she said.

In another experience, Wright believed she had developed a personal friendship with a founder, after donating countless hours to the organization. After declining to be involved in a more official capacity, Wright said she finally made a donation — the largest to the organization to date — yet it wasn’t acknowledged for two months. “Once they got the donation from me, there was radio silence. It was hurtful,” she said.