Millennial impact

The folks who have been putting together the Millennial Impact Report for the past four years – check out the 2012 report for pithy statistics and fun graphics — recently held a one-day conference on millennial engagement in hot-as-a-skillet Indianapolis.

I attended the conference mostly because I oversee  our “Next Gen Conversations” initiative  – PEM’s effort to engage with this group. David Thibodeau already wrote a great post about it.

Group of NextGen

Millennials working on a project at PEM.

I am also a millennial. Just borderline (how borderline, a lady never tells), but, according to many definitions – and there is more than one – I am.

The conference inspected the millennial generation’s impact on nonprofits through the lens of stories and labels.  Here is a snippet of my story, and labels that apply to me: I am a volunteer. I am a woman. I am a leader. I am an immigrant. I am a philanthropist. I am socially conscious. I have lived in poverty. I am a technology user. I am a nonprofit employee. I am following my calling. I am also a Celtics fan, a Words-with-Friends champion, and a mezcal aficionado, but I won’t get into that here.

Welcoming remarks by the Vice President of PEM’s Board of Trustees, Rose-Marie van Otterloo

Victoria is third from left with other millennial staff and friends at an opening reception at PEM.

Here is what we learned about how these labels apply to millennials:


digital capture by 150kilos

The Face of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Courtesy of The New Yorker.

The first speaker was Jose Antonio Vargas. You may recall his 2010 in-depth profile of Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker. He also has a column in the Huffington Post, and writes for the Times and New York Magazine. More importantly, shortly after the Zuckerberg article, he came out… as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. His talk included an incredibly powerful personal story, but the millennial takeaway is this: Shortly after his self-expose, a You Tube and Twitter campaign called “Coming Out Undocumented” caught fire.

As part of the campaign, undocumented millennials post videos of their undocumented stories.

Following your Calling

We are a generation who is seeking meaning. Thirty-eight percent of us will take a pay cut to work at a place we care about and contribute to the mission. Mike de Ponte is the founder of SOMA – an uber cool water filter with a serious social mission of bringing clean water to impoverished regions.

SOMAMike stressed that finding a calling, and this is true for millennials and organizations alike, is all about answering these three questions:

  1. What brings you joy (me: art, literature and new experiences).

  2. What are you best at (me: managing complex, cross organizational projects).

  3. What does the world need (among many other things, transformation through engagement with art and culture, creativity, informal learning, and, of course, love).

Find the intersection of the three, and you’ve found your calling. Thank you, PEM.

Technology and Social Media

The big inventions of and for our generation have been communication based. Most of the largest social media platforms were founded in the last decade by millennials (case in point: Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter).

azita ardakani

Azita Ardakani, courtesy Catchafire

Among one of the youngest and most successful entrepreneurs is Azita Ardakani, founder and CEO of social media behemoth Lovesocial. Azita can easily be credited with with making social media deeply engaging and meaningful. She is also the youngest woman founder of a B Corporation. Lovesocial has been responsible for launching social media campaigns that have raised millions for charities, NGOs and nonprofits around the world.

Given that millennials, on average, follow and truly connect with only five of the hundreds of nonprofits that reach out to them, Azita preaches a trifecta gospel for making social media meaningful. She also reminds us that social media doesn’t create movements, it merely provides a framework for accessing and participating in them:

  1. Authenticity (if you, your team and your Board aren’t excited, it’s not authentic enough).

  2. Simplicity, (if it’s not instantly clear to those not in the know, it’s not simple enough).

  3. Urgency (if you’re not jumping out of bed to do it, it’s not urgent enough).



Photo by Victoria Glazomitsky

A panel of three incredible women spoke about working with millennials and millennial leadership (and really, when was the last time you heard an all-female panel talk about corporate leadership? The times, they are a changin’). Nicole Roy-Tobin from Deloitte, Heidi Jark from Fifth Third Bank and Foundation and Nicole Robinson from Mondelez International all run leadership development programs for their companies.

All three talked about their corporate volunteer programs as one of the greatest benefits they offer to keep their millennial staff engaged. They noted that this generation has high expectations of good corporate citizenship, volunteerism and giving back. They also talked about the millennial trait of “bringing your whole person to work.” For many of us, especially those who work in mission-driven organizations, work is something we DO, not just somewhere we GO. As a result, the lines between our work and personal selves become blurred, often to the benefit of fulfilling the missions that fuels our passions.

Providing constant learning and growth opportunities, enhancing connection to mission, giving up control and fostering a culture of responsibility and ensuring your millennial (and, really, entire) workforce is happy increases productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line. Not a novel concept, but an important one.

Poverty and Social Consciousness

We are one of the most socially conscious generations to date. Social consciousness is difficult to measure, but if you look at how many of us donate time and money to worthy causes (see stats in the next section), the numbers speak for themselves. Paul Schmitz, founder of Public Allies and member of the White House Council on Community Solutions, spoke of the notion of social change coming from the leadership of many. More than just an “it takes a village” mentality, he suggests that leadership is about shared values, not just shared tasks.

Volunteering and Philanthropy

This was a big one.

  • 63% of us volunteered last year.

  • 75% donated.

  • The estimated spending power of millennials is $3 Billion. That’s THREE BILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS. A big question for nonprofits is: how do we get ahold of some of that millennial cash? And how do we get this group to be more involved with us?

Rachael Chong

Rachael Chong, courtesy

Rachel Chong, founder of Catchafire, the largest pro-bono talent agency in the world, (matching high level talent with distinct nonprofit projects) notes that a truly meaningful volunteer experience transforms people into donors (of time and money) for the rest of their lives. Utilizing millennial skills and experiences in volunteer roles – including governance, rather than as merely another pair of hands, fosters deeper connections that translate to a big financial impact.

Next, Alia McKee talked about millennial giving. She is the brain-force behind Sea Change Strategies and a leading behavioral dynamics and giving researcher. Here are the conclusions of an extensive study she recently conducted on the giving habits of millennials:

  1. In direct opposition from the majority of previous generations, millennials are far more communitarian (vs. individual) and egalitarian (vs. hierarchical).

  2. Millennials are extremely peer conscious. 70% of millennials are more interested in experiences or products when their peers promote them.

  3. Millennials look for impact that is FELT and SEEN not just understood. They expect a high degree of accountability and precision about what their money is funding.

  4. We respect a new authority. Instead of merely high ranking officials talking to us, we want to hear from the experts implementing the initiatives we are funding (e.g. doctors) and their beneficiaries.

  5. We are driven by emotions. The best way to get us interested is to lead with a story, give some facts and provide a call to action (and I cannot imagine that this is not true for most generations).

Justin Wheeler, the founder of LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), added to Alia’s observations based on his own highly successful campaigns (last year LiNK raised more than $1M, more than half of which came from millennials, and rescued and resettled more than 100 refugees).

Justin Wheeler, courtesy image

Justin Wheeler, courtesy image

His organization uses three core principles when launching campaigns targeted at millennials:

  1. Create a great space – virtual or otherwise – that millennials can share with peers.

  2. Provide great content – and make sure it’s very visual and clearly tells your story.

  3. Put millennials in charge. Give up some control to gain the confidence of this generation. Millennials can spot a fake and a forced institutional voice from a mile away.

Like previous generations, millennials give to organizations with which they have relationships. All the speakers on giving (including the almost impossibly charismatic Ido Leffler of Yes to Inc.) stressed this point: stop selling and start building relationships. Transparency, cause, inclusion and ownership are all themes around which millennials build relationships. Ido’s credo is to believe in your mission, find people you care about, ask them what they care about and build on that.

While the conference left a few things to be desired, it was a meaningful and inspiring experience to hear about the great things our generation has already accomplished, what is in store and how we connect to the world around us.

On a side note, Indy is a nice place if you can stand the heat (in the low 100s both days I was there). On Friday, I went to the Kurt Vonnegut library – honoring one of my favorite author’s lifelong pride in being a Hoosier.

vonnegut library

Photo by Victoria Glazomitsky

I was also lucky enough to be able to get to the Indianapolis Museum of Art to catch the Ai Weiwei exhibit right before it closed.  I suppose it could have been the result of spending 14 hours talkin’ about my generation that made me grateful for a little generational variety, but as I walked around both places, and noticed the cross-generational visitors and conversations, I couldn’t help but think about the timeless relevance of a truly good story, truly good art and truly good work.



  1. bryanne says:

    This was an amazing article. Thank you.

  2. Karen Ansara says:

    Superb article with wide relevance to social change as well as arts organizations. I tweeted it @karenansara.

  3. Elliot says:

    Terrific! Thank you. I think that the three questions to answer to find your calling are perfect.

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