Feature Stories

An in-depth look at key programs and issues that matter

Decoding Millennial giving

“What I need from you is to create something that 10 years from now we can both be proud of,” Chad Audi, president and CEO of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, said during the first of two sessions in downtown Detroit with the inaugural Thirty Under 30 fellows.

This year-long program is a shared learning experience. Corporations and humanitarian organizations alike have become entrenched in fundraising practices designed for Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. Indeed, learning about Millennials is something that all three of the nonprofits—Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, United Way for Southeastern Michigan and The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division—say is critical as they face the biggest generational change since the 1960s.

People sitting at an office table with post it notes and markers

“The group that I resonate with the most would be United Way,” fellow Dina Tayim, a mechanical engineering major from Ohio State University who works in product development, said before the second session's pairings of the 30.

Tayim believes her mechanical engineering background suits her to develop strategies and plans for the group to connect with a future donor and volunteer base.

“The challenges they listed, specifically working with the design team to prototype transportation options would be a good fit for my mechanical design engineering background, involvement in environmental impact, and hands on learning/prototyping experience.”

Likewise, Fatima Kebe, an industrial engineer from Ohio State University working in Ford’s transmission manufacturing operations, believes her industrial engineering background combines to strengthen her interests in humanitarianism and engineering.

“Listening to the nonprofits, I think we’ll have an opportunity to use our technical skills to gain more skills that make a real difference in the world,” she said.

Representatives for each of the humanitarian groups outlined their challenges for the fellows and shared insights to running a nonprofit.

Male and female laughing at a table filled with craft supplies

“The challenge is, how do we engage Millennials over a long period of time?”Millennials are “mosaic individuals,” they tend to get involved in numerous smaller projects, according to Lt. Col. John Turner, divisional commander for The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division.

This corporate leadership course, designed to help young employees learn about philanthropy and civic engagement, aims to harness a portion of the 70 percent of Millennials who spent at least an hour volunteering last year for causes important to them according to a 2015 Achieve study.

Unlike charitable donors older than 45, Millennials are more likely to volunteer than write a check.

Female smiling at student at a table full of craft supplies

“At this stage in life, most Millennials are earning their first full-time employment paychecks and learning how to support themselves financially as they begin to understand the cost of living outside college,” said Gabriel Blanco, a Rutgers graduate who works in vehicle interiors. 

The mechanical engineer added, “To complicate matters further, Millennials often feel financially restricted and inexperienced when dealing with school, loan repayments, car payments and balancing rents and mortgages on their first homes. In this sense, it is much easier for Millennials to donate time and energy to non-profits.”

Stephen Nacarato, director of corporate development at United Way of Southeastern Michigan, reminded the 30 that the idea of a charitable payroll deduction was pioneered by Ford. But what worked for past generations is not likely to work for raising funds from today’s digitally connected, fast-moving youth.

Young adults in classroom setting putting post it notes on a white board

Many of the 30 utilize design thinking, a problem solving approach that builds skills to think creatively, work collaboratively and implement innovations, in their day jobs; and it’s clearly visible in these early stages.“The challenge is, how do we engage Millennials over a long period of time? What’s the next payroll deduction? How do we sustain it? How do we maintain it? How do we launch it?”

“This is a unique opportunity to work with not-for-profits in a way I never have before,” PJ Wascher, a Syracuse University graduate who works in IT, said.

“The idea of design thinking is going to allow us to think outside of the box, to come up with a model for how we’re going to come up with innovative ideas for these charities. The empathy topic is huge. It not only applies here, but the more we can empathize, the better we can be in life and on our jobs.”

Group of young adults and students in a classroom setting working on various projects

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan hosted the half day structured meetings, which allowed for exploration of the downtown area. The next formal group gathering is in late May, but the trio of groups will stay in touch with their non-profit partner and continue to learn about the organization, its goals, needs, successes, challenges, and daily operations.

“Aside from building relationships with our non-profit partners, this group has also given us the opportunity to build relationships with each other, and some incredible friendships have already blossomed, Meredith Citkowski a University of Michigan chemical engineer now working on the Lincoln Continental program at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant said Friday in an e-mail. The excitement and passion around the nonprofits and our partnership was undeniably present. It transcended the structured meeting times–some of us were discussing and brainstorming into the early morning hours!”


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