Not-for-profits and businesses work to engage millennials in donating, volunteering

Linn County organizations working to give back

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Millennials are often stereotyped as a self-centered, selfie-taking, entitled bunch constantly needing praise.

In many ways, those impressions are false. And that generation now represents the largest share of employees in the workforce, and they’re taking over for baby boomers as the most active members of their communities.

In fact, the Case Foundation’s national 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which details millennials’ tendency to interact with causes, showed that;

l 84 percent of millennial employees made a charitable donation in 2014

l 70 percent of millennial employees spent at least an hour volunteering in 2014.

Though baby boomers and Gen Xers still represent the majority of charitable givers, the ratio will shift as millennials rise in the workforce and become more economical stable.

In response, Corridor not-for-profits in are coming up with new ways to engage millennials in donating and volunteering, and area businesses are enticing their employees to participate in charitable causes.

However, millennials won’t be donating and volunteering the same way their parents and grandparents have.


The Next Generation of American Giving 2016 Blackbaud report showed that millennials differ from the other generations of givers in that they wanted to be hands-on participants in the causes they were involved in, and if they donate money, they want to know where that money is going and how it benefits a cause.

“Millennials want to be engaged in something,” said Shannon Hanson, marketing and communication manager at United Way of East Central Iowa. “They want to be hands-on and believe in what they’re giving to.

“The old model of just giving money because you know it’s a good organization won’t work. They believe in what they believe in, and no more or no less.”

Many millennials need to feel a personal connection to understand the importance of a particular cause, Hanson said. And United Way and other not-for-profits are working harder to attract millennials to causes, and they’re partnering with businesses to do it.

“If we don’t start getting millennials to give, then our donor base is going to fall immensely over the next few years,” Hanson said. “Every single non-profit, every single college, every single organization that raises money is looking at how you engage millennials.”


United Way of East Central Iowa partnered with companies for years to have a day or week of giving. Companies might set fundraising goals or show volunteer opportunities, maybe allow employees to take off paid hours for volunteer opportunities.

New United Way campaigns likely will focus around a specific cause, such as education for elementary schoolchildren. The first week, Hanson said UWECI would introduce the cause and goals by sharing data, such as how only 61 percent of low-income children are proficient in reading. The next week would involve volunteer opportunities. The third week is when employees would be encouraged to donate.

“It makes it more personal, so they understand how the neighborhoods they live and work in, what they really look like,” Hanson said. “In the past, (employees) give because the CEO says it’s a good idea to give. If you tell them what the issue is, they get involved with it in all of their senses.”

United Way also is focusing less on touting donation goals and emphasizing that they can show donors how their contributions help by tracking the progress of a campaign.

“We do all the data collection,” Hanson said. “We can show you that the money you have given makes a difference. We’re trying to get away from talking about the dollars we raise because it’s really about the difference we’re making with those dollars.”


Not-for-profits are not the only ones prioritizing new charitable tactics.

Mike Butterfield, chairman of United Way’s Young Leaders Society and project manager at HDR Engineering, said he and many other employers are looking for engaged employees.

“As I look at resumes ..., I’m looking to see how engaged they are,” Butterfield said. “It shows that there are multiple levels on which that person might operate. It’s amazing the difference between what someone is willing to do and what they’re willing to get paid to do.

“With being a global company that has local clients, we want to engage and understand what’s going on in our communities.”

Butterfield added he also is aware that not all millennials can give back financially.

“How do we make sure that folks are able to contribute with their dollars but also with their time?” Butterfield said. “The resounding message that I’ve certainly received when it comes to the younger generation is they don’t necessarily have the dollars to contribute, but they want to be involved and be a part of something larger than themselves.”

David Sorg, principal at OPN Architects in Cedar Rapids, said in addition to United Way campaigns, OPN does pro bono work designing or helping to build community buildings.

“What helps (employees) stay here, they need to love OPN, but they need to love their community,” Sorg said. “One way to develop a strong bond with your community is to get involved and give back.”

OPN has worked with Matthew 25, an organization that helps to rebuild neighborhoods, and did pro bono work for NewBo Market.

“We are very blessed to be in a great community, and our community has been very good to us,” Sorg said. “We also have a specific skill with creativity and changing the built environment. It’s our role to help to give that back.”

Sorg also is chairman for 100 Plus Men Who Care, an organization in which the 150 members meet four times a year for 45 minutes of socializing and 45 minutes of raising money. Members agree to give $100 each meeting, and the group debates which local organization to which they will donate all the money raised that night.

This way of donating cuts out costs and time spent running a fundraising campaign.

“When we get to make the phone call to these organizations that they’ve just got $15,000, it’s pretty incredible,” he said.

Sorg said he may consider a smaller program similar to 100 Plus Men Who Care so younger professionals can get involved and possibly donate smaller amounts of money. But Sorg said he’s seen younger OPN employees already engaged in giving back.

Evan Lamprecht, 27, an OPN intern architect, is involved in the Rotary and goes on mission trips. But Lamprecht said he also recognizes his skills as an architect help him to give to causes such as Habitat for Humanity.

“That’s my solution to truly give back with time,” he said. “To create a change in that fashion instead of just giving money I feel is much better.”

Paul Desmond, 26, also an intern architect at OPN, said the United Way Week of Giving at OPN got him involved. Desmond wants to be most involved with the causes that help victims of domestic abuse and single mothers.

“You want to be able to give more than you receive because we’re receiving so much,” Desmond said. “We have great benefits, we get paid well ...

“Looking at the end of the day, if I’m giving $5 a week, it adds up. I said, ‘I can do with one less beer,’ or ‘I can do with one less meal going out.’”

He added that, “It’s not like a competition, but how much more can we do to better ourselves and the community. You just associate with people you want to make yourself better around and elevate your game. It’s not about the ego. It’s about the impact on the community.”

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