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Are Millennials Reshaping Philanthropy?

Whether it means pursuing a career in the non-profit sector or seeking new ways of giving back, philanthropy is “trending” among the millennial generation.

Ever since graduating from the Recreation and Leisure program at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario, Sarah Facey knew she wanted to work in the non-profit sector. She landed a job with the YMCA straight out of school, and eventually scored the Camp Director position at Camp Kummoniwannago (pronounced come-on-I-wanna-go).

Located at Laurel Creek Conservation area in Waterloo, ON, Camp Kummoniwannago’s mission is to provide a fun, outdoor camp experience for all children in the surrounding area. According to the organization’s website, the camp welcomes all children “with open arms, to flourish as individuals and as a team, regardless of ability.” The camp offers an inclusion program for children with special needs, as well as a subsidy program, which offers either full or partial fee assistance for families in need.

Working for a Non-Profit

“It gives me a sense of purpose every day to know that what I’m doing is helping other people,” Facey says in an interview with The Reply. “I don’t think I could ever just go to an office and not have that experience.”

In her role as Camp Director, Facey oversees all operations of the organization, from programming to marketing and social media management, as well as budgeting, fundraising and grant writing. But she says the most rewarding part of the job is the hands-on communication with the parents.

“There are so many families struggling to just get by, and they want to provide their kids with experiences over the summer like every other kid gets,” says Facey. “I’ve had parents [come to me] with tears in their eyes saying, ‘Thank you so much for allowing this to happen, my kids have never been so happy.’”

Camp Kummoniwannago is funded through two large grants from the federal and provincial governments. This money is used to subsidize staff wages, the camp’s biggest expense. In addition to the government funding, the organization performs community outreach with letters to Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs asking for donation dollars. They also hold a number of fundraising events throughout the year, including a fish fry and chili cook-off.

Charitable Attitudes Amongst Millennials

Working in the non-profit industry, Facey has become quite familiar with the endless searches for donation dollars. She speaks to the differences in philanthropy efforts in millennials versus the baby boomer generation – a demographic change she says many organizations haven’t been able to grasp yet.

But it’s one worth rethinking. “With around 80 million millennials coming of age, knowing how they spend their cash on causes is going to be critical for nonprofits,” reads a recent story published in the NPR New Boom series.

“Events like a fish fry dinner or chili cook-off aren’t going to work for millennials,” Facey says. “They don’t want to go out and do something. It has to be easy for them.”

The observation sounds harsh at first, but makes sense. Millennials prefer the easy click of a button. “Our lives are so much more stimulated and so ‘busy’ that if you ask a millennial to attend an event, it’s very daunting.”

Instead, the key to targeting millennials for charitable donations is to appeal to their selfie-loving side. After all, social media and sharing are in millennials’ DNA. “With millennials, they want to show they’re doing something,” Facey says. “It needs to be something they can post on their social media profile, something they can be held accountable for. It’s not just about trying to get them to give money, it’s about how we can reward them for giving their money.”

Making Philanthropy “Trendy”

Though the way we approach giving may seem rather narcissistic, it doesn’t change the fact that being socially responsible is important to millennials.

“One of the characteristics of millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good,” writes Leigh Buchanan in Meet the Millennials. “Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.”

Facey most certainly fits this narrative. Not only is she dedicated to a career in the non-profit sector (she’s recently taken on a new position as Assistant Director at Camp Awakening in Toronto), but she is also an avid giver beyond her 9 to 5 role. In fact, she was participating in two charity events in one weekend just last month. “Financially, I couldn’t donate to both these events the way I wanted to,” she says. “So I had to go out and find funding elsewhere.”

Millennials Find New Ways to Give Back

As we all know, cash flow among millennials is an ongoing issue. But this doesn’t stop us from contributing. Facey says millennials will often make smaller contributions, donating 10 dollars to one charity this month and another 10 dollars the next.

Gen-Y is also more likely to participate in events like a 5km run, where we can raise donations by asking for money from our baby boomer friends and relatives. It’s a nice way for millennials to be socially responsibly while sticking to their budgets, Facey says.

Still, perhaps the most effective way for millennials to give back is by donating their time. “I’m a firm believer that volunteering your time is so much more important than money, especially if you’re looking for community volunteer experiences,” says Facey.

She adds that volunteering your time also ensures your philanthropic efforts are going to the right cause. Millennials are becoming more skeptical of the “black hole charities” that exist in our digital world. Non-profits have to work hard to prove they are legitimate, Facey says, and millennials have to do their due diligence. “I think it’s very important for millennials to research and make sure their money is going towards what it needs to.”

In the end, the decision for where you are donating your dollars is an important one. Take the time to find a charity (or multiple charities) that supports a cause you are passionate about. Determine how much of your budget you can allocate, and consider donating your time to fill any gaps.

Maybe you’ll take a step further, and contemplate a career in the non-profit world. It’s a move Facey certainly recommends. “There’s a lot of passion on the table at a non-profit,” she says. “And it’s great to be proud of where you work.”


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. She is a writer, blogger and amateur photographer with interests in positivity, creative muse, generational differences and the future of work. She has written for Canadian Business, Zoomer Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. At her company, Web of Words, she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and dog-child. To learn more, check out her website at and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.