Let’s get this out of the way. Millennials know the stereotypes.
It’s almost painful to write them down because of how played out they are, but here we go: We’re lazy, entitled, selfish, and something something avocado toast.
But here’s a better one: We’re generous, too.
Despite crippling student debt and generally unpredictable financial futures, in 2015, 84 percent of those surveyed by the Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report had donated to a nonprofit in the previous year, while 67 percent gave up to $499 and 72 percent volunteered.
Take Becca Refford. When the 24-year-old South Philly web designer was hit by a truck while riding her bike back in December, an incident that would keep her from working for several months, she did what many struggling young people do when they come into hard financial times: She started a GoFundMe.
In just a day, she far surpassed her crowdfunding goal of $5,000 and in the last month has raised $7,528 from 154 people. That surplus won’t go to her, though: She’s donating it to Women Bike PHL, an advocacy-focused offshoot of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Millennials — those of us born between 1982 and 2004-ish, depending on what authority you ask — are more likely than our older peers to donate to crowdfunding campaigns benefiting social causes we care about. Pew Research Center found in 2016 that 30 percent of those ages 18 to 29 had contributed to a crowdfunding campaign, compared with 27 percent of those 30 to 49, 18 percent of those 50 to 64, and 8 percent of those 65 and older; nearly 70 percent of donors overall have contributed to a cause-related fund. (Caveat: Millennials grew up with the internet and are therefore more comfortable navigating and giving on it.)
Young people are also angry. The vast majority of us think the country is going in the wrong direction. Millennials voted 55 percent for Hillary Clinton, compared with Donald Trump’s 37 percent. And in Philadelphia last May, six months after the city as a whole picked Clinton by a 5-1 ratio, more millennials voted in the municipal primary election than in recent years — this the same election in which the most progressive DA candidate ever, Larry Krasner, was elected.
The Center City-based Bread & Roses Community Fund is one of about seven social justice-focused funding organizations in the county that runs Giving Projects, a fund-raising initiative that asks a cross-race, cross-class, intergenerational cohort of citizens to fund-raise from their peers (and donate themselves) to a collective pool, which the cohort then grants out to local activist groups working for racial and economic justice. This past winter’s cohort of 17 — which, full disclosure, included me — raised $154,801.
Executive director Casey Cook said that interest in the project surged after the 2016 election — and that overwhelmingly, it was young people who responded to the call over their older peers. This matched Giving Project trends around the country.
“In Philly, we’ve had to make an effort to create an intergenerational environment,” Cook said. “We are overwhelmed with applications from young people, and that’s actually why we’re increasing the number of Giving Projects we’re running every year, in order to accommodate that need. And from my colleagues around the country, I am hearing similar things — that applications from young people are the largest in number.”
Millennials, especially, want a connection to causes we support. We want to know where our money is going and how exactly it’s being used. The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report found last year that young people tend to be hands-on in our activism and are inclined to believe our everyday actions can have a positive effect on the world.
Cook supported this: What she’s hearing from Giving Projects’ younger applicants is that “not only do they want to give and raise money, they want to be involved in helping to create the change that we’re trying to make,” she said.
Maybe keep that in mind the next time you mention brunch to us.
Julie Zeglen is a West Philly-based journalist and the editor of the social impact news site Generocity, which reports on the region’s nonprofits, philanthropic institutions, social enterprises, and local government. @juliezeglen