Yes, I know what you’re thinking - not another broad stroked article about the Millennial generation. Bear with me for a moment though, because this simple insight could be critical to the future of your social enterprise.
Millennials will make up over 50% of the American workforce by 2020, so understanding what motivates younger generations to choose an employer, stay at a company, buy a product, or join a movement is critical to leaders across organizations of all sectors. As a Millennial leader who has helped thousands of social enterprises and nonprofits attract this young generation of supporters, I’ve noticed one simple characteristic that gets to the root of understanding most Millennial behavior.
In both personal and professional endeavors, Millennials are overwhelmingly driven by purpose - and not just individual purpose, but a higher-level social purpose. They seek to understand how an organization benefits the world.
Social enterprises and nonprofits have, up until this point, naturally captured the ethos of Millennial passion and purpose. Approximately 60% regularly make donations to social impact organizations and 87% say they would consider fundraising on behalf of a cause they care about.
But now, companies of all shapes and sizes must incorporate a genuine purpose-driven mindset to their profit-driven goals if they hope to attract, retain, and sell to the Millennial generation. Millennials evaluate all organizations with an intellectual eye and mature emotional intuition. For-profits, nonprofits, and social enterprises alike need to prove tangible and measurable social impact to attract the economic force of Gen Y. For Millennials, the choice is less about a tax deduction and more about how a particular organization fulfills its promise to improve the world.
Take Team Rubicon, an organization that reignites veterans’ sense of purpose through emergency response deployment during natural disasters. The organization goes above-and-beyond to ensure every supporter knows she is a critical part of its mission. Team Rubicon traces the impact of each dollar and even offers to refund any donation that wasn’t used during an operation. The organization is a genuine force for good in the lives of veterans and the people they serve during disasters, but this exceptional customer service - a practice generally associated with businesses - creates a sense of purpose for every supporter. Since its inception in 2010, Team Rubicon has exponentially grown its donation volume and deployed on over 100 emergency response missions.
The "for-profit" world has achieved similar success by flipping the traditional business model on its head. Rather than focus solely on profit, many companies now choose a social cause as a core purpose of their business.
Warby Parker, an online glasses retailer that largely targets Millennials, also donates glasses to people in need using the one-for-one model that TOMs made famous. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal told HubSpot’s Katie Burke that a huge part of the company’s success hinged upon defining its purpose early on, “We needed a honed message and we needed to deliver on what we were promising. So, we spent a year and a half figuring out what the brand stood for, what our values were.”
The dedication paid off. Five years in, the company is valued at more than one billion dollars, has donated a million pairs of glasses and trained 18,000 people to maintain a sustainable source of vision care in their communities. They are well on their way towards their company’s stated goal of solving problems rather than creating them.
These are the kinds of organizations Millennials want to support; organizations run by socially-minded entrepreneurs who solve complex problems with dignity and believe in humanity’s potential. To stand the test of Millennial judgment, leaders need to inspire us with their vision and give us a compelling reason to make their movement our movement.
Some say that the Millennial generation’s empathy and ability to connect with others has been eroded by the Internet and online social networks. I don’t believe that. Instead, we look for social purpose in every aspect of our lives, from the apps we use to the causes we support. We’re loyal to the brands that include us on their journey to benefit others. But lip service isn’t enough; if an organization claims to have a positive impact on the world, it needs to be ready to prove it.
Terri Harel is currently a marketing associate at Classy, a fundraising platform for social impact organizations. Terri has a passion for activism, electronic music, traveling, political economics and amplifying social impact through technological innovation. Terri has also written on politics and music in various publications.
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