By Doug Inglish
It may seem counterintuitive because every generation thinks succeeding generations are discarding the values they should be cherishing, but millennials give more than previous generations.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to studies by several organizations that track such things, the current crop of young adults is more likely to give to charity than boomers, Generation Xers, or any other defined generation now living. The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report 2015 indicated that 84 percent of millennial employees gave to charity, and 70 percent donated an hour or more of labor to a charitable cause. If that ratio was transferred from one generation of employees to all members of our Conference, the impact would be incalculable!
In terms of actual dollars, baby boomers and Generation Xers give more, but that’s because they make up a greater percentage of higher income earners. That’s changing rap- idly as older workers retire and the expanding workforce brings in new millennials. Even more importantly, as millennials pay off student loans and climb the wage scale, their giving increases accordingly.
But the method of giving is different in three important ways. First, while many of us are still in the habit of writing a check to drop in the plate (or maybe a $5 bill if an unexpected plate passes by), the twenty- or thirty-somethings are much more likely to give digitally. Automatic bank payments, giving online through the church website and even in response to text messages make the process easy for a tech-savvy generation, and they are beginning to see the deacons coming down the aisle at church as relics of the past. Perhaps the simplicity of electronic giving helps account for the high percentage of givers.
The second difference is that millennials are more directed in their approach to giving. Specific projects are more likely to receive their generosity than ongoing programs. After all, knowing that a new well is being dug in a village that desperately needs one is more exciting than keeping the electric bill paid at the church. Putting in a day constructing a home for a low-income family gives a warmer feeling than serving on the school board. This is something that may start to have an impact on local church budgets if the importance of keeping the lights on is not properly communicated.
A final difference is a trend that has an immediate impact but will cause an echo roughly forty years from now. Millennials are more interested in charitable giving during their life- time than in making a charitable distribution a part of their estate plan. Typically they give at high rates now and plan that anything left over at the end of life will go to the family. This may change as they age and are able to see their children paying their own bills and building for their own retirement, but that is uncertain. If that attitude prevails, the hope is that increased giving during life will offset the charitable contributions that will be missing from estate plans. However, I can tell you that this trend is causing concern within the gift planning community, and how to adjust to the new reality is still unclear.
My own children are millennials. I am aware of their different ways of giving from my observations of how they manage their lives, so reading about these emerging trends has not caught me entirely by surprise. I’m aware of my generational biases, so I certainly don’t want to advocate that one generation does it better than another. In truth, I can’t help but admire millennials for their generosity and praise God that they are passionate about things that matter. Perhaps the best response my generation can have towards them is to keep them engaged in the decision-making process so that there can be intergenerational agreement about what things truly do matter. When that is achieved, I am confident that we will support those things appropriately.
Thanks to all of you, from all generations, for your support of the mission. I am encouraged that the giving trends of millennials indicate that the spirit of the mission is not being lost.
Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services. Email him at: [email protected]