Issues Over Institutions: How Millennials Interact With Causes

In a review of 10 years of research into how millennials support causes, the Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report finds that members of that generation tend to focus more on identifying the best solution to a problem than on which institution solves it.

The millennial generation has been a force for social change long enough that there’s now 10 years of research on the ways they engage with the causes they care about.

The Millennial Impact Report [registration], released last week, takes a comprehensive overview of data collected since 2009 by the Millennial Impact Project, an initiative supported by the Case Foundation. A few major takeaways: Millennials (defined as being born between 1980 and 2000) have become more issue-focused as they get older, have trusted their own power over that of institutions, and often think innovatively about solutions to big problems.

“Whether in spite or because of their youth, millennials have created new ways to bring about real changes in society over the last decade, and we suspect that new waves of young people will continue to drive even greater change,” the report states.

The report identifies several traits that characterize how millennials engage in cause-related activism, including:

Issues over institutions. Millennials are issue-oriented, engaging more with a cause than with any single organization. “They go where the causes call them, rather than
remaining loyal to an institution that serves an issue. For example, millennials are supporting five nonprofits a year on average,” the report notes. Ninety percent of individuals are motivated to give to an organization by a compelling mission, but 90 percent also said they would stop giving if an organization lost their trust.

A willingness to act. While millennials have been slammed for digital-only “slacktivism,” the report notes that their activism has become increasingly hands-on. “After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a portion of millennials were beginning to imbue the term ‘activist’ with more intense actions than voting, such as taking part in a protest, to effect national change,” the report states. “Later in 2017, they expanded the activities of an activist to include social media posts.”

Collective action, not politics. Movements like #MeToo, the #FightFor15, and the battle over immigration have motivated the growth of networks of millennials who care about those issues. But while they value collective action, they often distrust political solutions: Roughly a third of respondents said they had no trust in government’s ability to solve key problems such as poverty, racism, and student debt. This frustration with politics means that they often are skeptical of appeals to traditional solutions, such as bipartisanship.

They don’t limit the ways they donate—or push for change. Millennials often support a bevy of causes and through a variety of means, including by donating online or buying from socially responsible startups such as B corporations. The report notes that those who are active in social issues often are willing to use different tactics based on the issue and the need, and they offer help in small ways as well as large. “Whatever ways millennials show their support for a cause, 81 percent are confident that those actions will lead to improvements,” the report adds.

(JosuOzkaritz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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