Six Steps for Getting Gen Z Involved in Philanthropy and Workplace Giving

By Lauren Ziegler, VML

Even as a 27-year-old, I’m beginning to feel old, realizing my generation — the millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s — are quickly becoming obsolete. We’re being replaced by the younger, sassier, and even more digitally savvy Generation Z — or Gen Z for short. These are teenagers who will soon enter the workforce, drive consumerism and demand more from every industry.

In a recent Forbes forecast, Gen Z was singled out for its relationship with instant communications and entertainment. It should be no surprise that when you grow up surrounded by social media and technology, an instant response becomes the norm. Social channels such as Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and have risen to social prominence because of this emerging expectation — giving Gen Z power to create, share and bond quicker than ever before.

But beyond their social nature, we know very little about what they will value as they become young adults — specifically their charitable involvement. However, it’s a safe bet that keeping their attention will be challenging.

Examining the millennial generation may help lay some groundwork on how to attract, maintain and grow an authentic relationship with Gen Z. I am lucky to work for a company that values community service, in a role that manages its charitable giving, employee engagement and internal fundraising initiatives.

What We Know About Millennials

Previous generations may have been motivated by their companies to volunteer or donate. But according to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report by the Case Foundation, charitable giving by millennials is more likely to be influenced by their peers than by their work supervisors (65 percent versus 44 percent).

Meanwhile, only 11 percent of millennials have their donations deducted from their paychecks, a method that for older generations was often a standard way for giving at the office.

But millennials are donating. The same report, which surveyed more than 2,500 millennial employees and managers in small and large firms, found that 84 percent made a charitable donation in 2014. Of those, only 22 percent said their donations were solicited through their companies. Fully 78 percent made donations on their own.

It’s also fascinating to see how big a role “influencer marketing” plays in millennial consumerism. Trust and loyalty are often based on the number of Instagram followers an individual or brand has, or the number of likes on Facebook. Is this bad? Not necessarily. But as those looking to market to young adults know, it’s important to recognize this disruptive shift in the quest for human connection, or validation — a shift that I would argue is positive and has endless opportunities.

The Gen Z Road Map

Based on what we know about millennial charitable habits, how can companies continue to engage younger generations by leveraging, rather than shying away from, the growing age of social influence?

  1. Let their voices be heard.
    1. While young adults may lack the bank account to make a substantial donation to a charitable organization, they do have the power to raise awareness and help build a community. Allow them to lend their voices — and by doing so, enable their networks to hear yours.
    2. Allow young professionals to lead internal programs or events. Empower their opinions and allow them to take risks you might not have considered.
  2. Embrace diversity to stay relevant.
    1. Gender and racial diversity should be a given. Be educated on and inclusive of all types of diversity, from sexual orientation to economic diversity.
    2. Have a seat at the table for all employees. Create an open dialogue for feedback, and respond quickly.
    3. Instant is the new normal. Break down barriers that create lag time, and find a system that lets you adapt to new ideas, cultural events, etc.
  3. Clearly demonstrate how participation makes a difference.
    1. Younger donors want to know their involvement means something.
    2. Be transparent. Show employees how their financial or volunteer support made a difference in a person’s life or benefitted the community.
  4. Put skin in the game.
    1. Match donations.
    2. One of the top ways to motivate millennials to give is donation matching, which allows their personal donations to make a bigger impact to the causes they hold close to their hearts.
  5. Personal passion trumps corporate causes.
    1. Encourage bottom-up giving.
    2. More than half of millennial employees made a donation to a cause their company wasn’t associated with in response to a co-worker’s personal solicitation.
    3. Younger generations are more likely to give when their peers ask them to on a personal level.
  6. Give young employees power.
    1. Take the social trend of peer-to-peer influencers to employee programming by having fellow co-workers — rather than senior leadership — lead charitable activities.
    2. Examples include the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, local GoFundMe projects, etc.
    3. This model gives power to younger employees to self-organize fundraising events that are relevant and relatable.

In the end, millennials and Gen Z might not be so selfish after all but, rather, powerful beyond measure. They have mastered the art of witty visual storytelling and connecting to followers from around the world and demand more. Instead of judging them for taking a selfie, maybe we need to jump in the picture.

About Lauren Ziegler

Lauren Zielger works at VML, a global marketing agency headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, in a role focused on leading the company’s charitable programs. In 2005, VML created its own charitable giving arm, the VML Foundation, to give a unique benefit to employees. The foundation has remained an opt-in payroll deduction program open to all full-time employees in the United States, allowing members to make an impact in their communities through grant and matching gift programs, volunteer opportunities, community leadership roles and pro bono work.