Next generation of donors wants to give time, not just a check

2018 Giving Guide

When Chelsey Metcalf attended her first Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee fundraising event, it didn’t take long before she was drawn in to the cause.

Metcalf, a 27-year-old litigation associate with Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, was invited by a colleague and long-term Boys & Girls Clubs board member to last year’s annual Celebrating GIRLS event, which showcases the talents and interests of the girls served by the clubs.

Chelsey Metcalf, right, works with youth at the Boys & Girls Clubs on centerpieces for the organization’s annual Adult Prom event, which is aimed at introducing young professionals to its mission.

“I was just totally blown away by what the Boys & Girls Club was helping these young women do,” Metcalf said. “I loved that event. I was walking around browsing and talking to these young women and you would not believe how well-prepared and excited they were.”

While surveying the event, Metcalf saw an opportunity to help lead a mock trial event for the girls. She was eager to sign up, not only to help fund the opportunity, but also to volunteer to run it.

“That was something I could connect with the girls on,” she said.

It turned out that Foley & Lardner was the host of that event, and Metcalf has helped spearhead the effort for two years. Now, she also serves on the organization’s young professional board and is an enthusiastic promoter of the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Metcalf’s story, some would say, encapsulates a larger trend when it comes to millennials and philanthropy. Up-and-coming donors aren’t looking to simply write a check; they want to get involved with the causes that matter to them.

There are various theories to explain the generational change. Some contend it’s simply a matter of resources – many people who have graduated college within the past decade are saddled with debt and have less room in their budgets for charitable giving. Young people may not be able to give financially, but they can give their time.

“Part of it is just about maturation,” said Deanna Tillisch, president and chief executive officer of the United Performing Arts Fund. “When you’re in your 20s and early 30s, you just don’t have as much disposable income. That’s the same with the baby boomers, but the difference is that, generally speaking, millennials are coming out with so much more debt than what my generation had.”

Chelsey Metcalf, Fifth from the right, volunteers with Boys & Girls Clubs by leading a mock trial team at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee.

Post-college, expenses like mortgages or rent, life expenses and debt tend to take highest priority, but it doesn’t mean young people don’t desire to give, Tillisch said. In fact, she’s seen UPAF resonate more with older millennials as their income grows.

Metcalf pushes back on assumptions that young people are only willing to volunteer and not give financially, however.

“I think there is a preference for being involved, but I don’t think it’s accurate that millennials don’t give,” she said. “I know friends who have very little disposable income that still find ways to give to causes they’re passionate about.”

Likewise, Metcalf said, it’s unfair to say older generations aren’t interested in giving of their time.

“We have about four generations represented at my firm and I’ve seen my entire firm get involved in charity, and from more than just a giving standpoint,” she said. “Whether it be on boards or leading events.”

Jenny Mueller, vice president of development for the Wisconsin Humane Society, said the organization has noticed young professionals wanting not only to make a donation, but also to see the difference their donation is making by volunteering.

“We’ve seen an interest in philanthropy and volunteering combine,” Mueller said. “We’ve always had a wonderfully strong volunteer program, but it’s grown even more in the last couple years. We have 1,800 people who volunteer for us right now, and some of the fastest growing opportunities I see tying into a younger generation and the ways we want to be involved.”

One of those opportunities, Mueller said, is the Humane Society’s growing foster program, in which people volunteer to take shelter animals into their homes temporarily.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest among younger people in this,” Mueller said. “They might have a little extra time and space where they can open up their home to the animal that needs temporary help. And those people sometimes are our donors, too, so they’re combining those things together.”

Also drawing millennials in to volunteering is the sense of community those opportunities bring.

Tillisch said as UPAF looks to lower its median donor age, the organization has sought opportunities for young people to get engaged with the cause and with other donors.

“Volunteering has a way of bringing people together for a greater good and common cause,” Tillisch said. “So we look for opportunities that not only provide dollars, but get the younger demographic engaged.”

The fund recently launched an awareness campaign aimed at reaching Milwaukee residents who may not attend performing arts shows, but appreciate the arts and all things Milwaukee, with live podcast shows at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Facebook Live videos, social media videos and other avenues.

“We’ve noticed that giving is a little bit more transactional, so we have to look for opportunities that present that transaction – events, bringing people together, so there is a social aspect to it and they can share that they were there,” Tillisch said.

“Millennials want it to be known that they’re doing something good,” added Katie Joachim, public relations and social media specialist at UPAF.

Chelsey Metcalf, front row right, a litigation associate with Foley & Lardner LLP, with a Boys & Girls Clubs mock trial team and Kenneth Jones, club manager for Bradley Tech High School.

Young people are also demanding more convenient ways of giving. Having an online platform, organizations say, is a must.

Mueller said up until last year, the Humane Society’s website wasn’t mobile-friendly or conducive to donors who wanted to give via smartphone. Since updating its website, the organization has seen an increase in online giving. Its monthly giving program, which allows donors to give a set amount automatically out of their checking account every month, has doubled in size in recent years.

“We’ve had a lot more young people sign on to be monthly donors and I think that is an easy way, on an entry level, to become a philanthropist,” she said. “People can pledge to give $5, $10, $15, $20 a month – whatever they’re comfortable with – and over time that adds up to make a big impact on our organization.”

Vincent Lyles, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, said the organization has updated its website to allow for online giving platforms, but also is working to bolster its online presence over the next year, recognizing that younger audiences are drawn in by stories.

“We’re not a hip, trendy organization; we just aren’t,” he said. “We should be, but we’re not. And so we have some ground to gain there. I think in a year or so, we’ll be able to tell a different story about our connection to young people through social media and those platforms.”

Capturing the millennial audience is important, but also challenging, nonprofit leaders said. The increase in the number of nonprofits and charitable opportunities in recent decades has them competing for the younger generations’ attention.

“There are so many more options,” Tillisch said. “Because there are so many good causes out there that make the decision even more difficult from a nonprofit standpoint, we need to make sure we get our share of voice so you even know we exist. So we’re fighting for shelf space and that’s our challenge. How do we reach you in a way that is going to get you to know who we are, believe in what we do and subsequently give us a gift?”

But, nonprofit leaders said, the challenge of attracting a younger audience is worth it.

“I am a firm believer that there is great abundance out there in terms of time, treasures and talents,” Lyles said. “So, as we think about philanthropy, millennials are contributing and they’re making a big difference in their own way and organizations like mine really appreciate it.”

When Chelsey Metcalf attended her first Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee fundraising event, it didn’t take long before she was drawn in to the cause.

Metcalf, a 27-year-old litigation associate with Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, was invited by a colleague and long-term Boys & Girls Clubs board member to last year’s annual Celebrating GIRLS event, which showcases the talents and interests of the girls served by the clubs.

Chelsey Metcalf, right, works with youth at the Boys & Girls Clubs on centerpieces for the organization’s annual Adult Prom event, which is aimed at introducing young professionals to its mission.

“I was just totally blown away by what the Boys & Girls Club was helping these young women do,” Metcalf said. “I loved that event. I was walking around browsing and talking to these young women and you would not believe how well-prepared and excited they were.”

While surveying the event, Metcalf saw an opportunity to help lead a mock trial event for the girls. She was eager to sign up, not only to help fund the opportunity, but also to volunteer to run it.

“That was something I could connect with the girls on,” she said.

It turned out that Foley & Lardner was the host of that event, and Metcalf has helped spearhead the effort for two years. Now, she also serves on the organization’s young professional board and is an enthusiastic promoter of the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Metcalf’s story, some would say, encapsulates a larger trend when it comes to millennials and philanthropy. Up-and-coming donors aren’t looking to simply write a check; they want to get involved with the causes that matter to them.

There are various theories to explain the generational change. Some contend it’s simply a matter of resources – many people who have graduated college within the past decade are saddled with debt and have less room in their budgets for charitable giving. Young people may not be able to give financially, but they can give their time.

“Part of it is just about maturation,” said Deanna Tillisch, president and chief executive officer of the United Performing Arts Fund. “When you’re in your 20s and early 30s, you just don’t have as much disposable income. That’s the same with the baby boomers, but the difference is that, generally speaking, millennials are coming out with so much more debt than what my generation had.”

Chelsey Metcalf, Fifth from the right, volunteers with Boys & Girls Clubs by leading a mock trial team at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee.

Post-college, expenses like mortgages or rent, life expenses and debt tend to take highest priority, but it doesn’t mean young people don’t desire to give, Tillisch said. In fact, she’s seen UPAF resonate more with older millennials as their income grows.

Metcalf pushes back on assumptions that young people are only willing to volunteer and not give financially, however.

“I think there is a preference for being involved, but I don’t think it’s accurate that millennials don’t give,” she said. “I know friends who have very little disposable income that still find ways to give to causes they’re passionate about.”

Likewise, Metcalf said, it’s unfair to say older generations aren’t interested in giving of their time.

“We have about four generations represented at my firm and I’ve seen my entire firm get involved in charity, and from more than just a giving standpoint,” she said. “Whether it be on boards or leading events.”

Jenny Mueller, vice president of development for the Wisconsin Humane Society, said the organization has noticed young professionals wanting not only to make a donation, but also to see the difference their donation is making by volunteering.

“We’ve seen an interest in philanthropy and volunteering combine,” Mueller said. “We’ve always had a wonderfully strong volunteer program, but it’s grown even more in the last couple years. We have 1,800 people who volunteer for us right now, and some of the fastest growing opportunities I see tying into a younger generation and the ways we want to be involved.”

One of those opportunities, Mueller said, is the Humane Society’s growing foster program, in which people volunteer to take shelter animals into their homes temporarily.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest among younger people in this,” Mueller said. “They might have a little extra time and space where they can open up their home to the animal that needs temporary help. And those people sometimes are our donors, too, so they’re combining those things together.”

Also drawing millennials in to volunteering is the sense of community those opportunities bring.

Tillisch said as UPAF looks to lower its median donor age, the organization has sought opportunities for young people to get engaged with the cause and with other donors.

“Volunteering has a way of bringing people together for a greater good and common cause,” Tillisch said. “So we look for opportunities that not only provide dollars, but get the younger demographic engaged.”

The fund recently launched an awareness campaign aimed at reaching Milwaukee residents who may not attend performing arts shows, but appreciate the arts and all things Milwaukee, with live podcast shows at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Facebook Live videos, social media videos and other avenues.

“We’ve noticed that giving is a little bit more transactional, so we have to look for opportunities that present that transaction – events, bringing people together, so there is a social aspect to it and they can share that they were there,” Tillisch said.

“Millennials want it to be known that they’re doing something good,” added Katie Joachim, public relations and social media specialist at UPAF.

Chelsey Metcalf, front row right, a litigation associate with Foley & Lardner LLP, with a Boys & Girls Clubs mock trial team and Kenneth Jones, club manager for Bradley Tech High School.

Young people are also demanding more convenient ways of giving. Having an online platform, organizations say, is a must.

Mueller said up until last year, the Humane Society’s website wasn’t mobile-friendly or conducive to donors who wanted to give via smartphone. Since updating its website, the organization has seen an increase in online giving. Its monthly giving program, which allows donors to give a set amount automatically out of their checking account every month, has doubled in size in recent years.

“We’ve had a lot more young people sign on to be monthly donors and I think that is an easy way, on an entry level, to become a philanthropist,” she said. “People can pledge to give $5, $10, $15, $20 a month – whatever they’re comfortable with – and over time that adds up to make a big impact on our organization.”

Vincent Lyles, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, said the organization has updated its website to allow for online giving platforms, but also is working to bolster its online presence over the next year, recognizing that younger audiences are drawn in by stories.

“We’re not a hip, trendy organization; we just aren’t,” he said. “We should be, but we’re not. And so we have some ground to gain there. I think in a year or so, we’ll be able to tell a different story about our connection to young people through social media and those platforms.”

Capturing the millennial audience is important, but also challenging, nonprofit leaders said. The increase in the number of nonprofits and charitable opportunities in recent decades has them competing for the younger generations’ attention.

“There are so many more options,” Tillisch said. “Because there are so many good causes out there that make the decision even more difficult from a nonprofit standpoint, we need to make sure we get our share of voice so you even know we exist. So we’re fighting for shelf space and that’s our challenge. How do we reach you in a way that is going to get you to know who we are, believe in what we do and subsequently give us a gift?”

But, nonprofit leaders said, the challenge of attracting a younger audience is worth it.

“I am a firm believer that there is great abundance out there in terms of time, treasures and talents,” Lyles said. “So, as we think about philanthropy, millennials are contributing and they’re making a big difference in their own way and organizations like mine really appreciate it.”

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