The 2012 Millennial Impact Report: Harnessing Generation Y for CSR and EVP Success

Jul 10, 2012 8:10 PM ET
Photo by Ashley Gushue of Google employees volunteering during annual GoogleServe event.

Volunteering Is CSR

Generation Y doesn’t have a great reputation.

More often than not, today’s cohort of young people — often referred to as Millennials, or the population born between 1980 and 2000 — are depicted as entitled, selfish and lazy. Parents, employers and even the New York Times portray them as a “Generation Me,” a demanding population spoiled by technology that values little over their number one priority: fun.

This characterization seems a little unfair.

Millennials may have grown up with smartphones, digital downloads and the Internet at their fingertips, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to laziness or apathy.

In fact, Millennials are quickly becoming a vital force for social good. Generation Y represents a key portion of potential nonprofit volunteers, and they’re increasingly optimistic about business’ capacity to effect positive change. Essentially, they’re the ideal candidates for corporate volunteer engagement.

Besides, this generation encompasses two groups key to corporate success: employees and consumers. While they occupy the same roles as their elder counterparts, Millennials see corporate relationships in a much different light. This generation is socially and environmentally conscious, and they expect their businesses to be as well. Volunteering is just an extension of already-in-place values, but the question remains of how to engage them.

So how do you harness the potential impact of Millennial employees and consumers? The 2012 Millennial Impact Report, the third such annual examination of Millennials, is an excellent resource for businesses tackling this challenge. Although it provides valuable insight into the generation’s mindset, values and habits, the report’s true impact lies in its solutions for engaging both types of Millennials and, as a result, building company loyalty.

Millennial Behavior

According to the report, Millennials are volunteering in record numbers. 63% of survey respondents volunteered for a nonprofit in 2011, and 90% expected to volunteer as much or more in 2012 than in 2011. An astonishing 75% gave a financial gift in 2011, and 71% had raised money on behalf of nonprofits.

We have on our hands a generation of fundraisers and enthusiastic volunteers. They’re passionate about inspiring causes, and they are likely to align themselves — either as employees or customers — with for-profits that share their ideals.

Engaging Millennials

However, Millennials aren’t content with any old volunteer opportunity. 77% seek the opportunity for leadership positions, and 48% wish to apply their professional or academic background when volunteering. Survey respondents made it clear they should not be taken for granted, and they seek a wide range of volunteer commitments.

But they are firmest on one point: they want to know exactly how their time, money, or action is making a difference. For businesses, this means offering employees and customers a variety of volunteer options and showing them the direct impacts of your company’s work.

Millennials are clearly interested in volunteering, and are eager to promote good and inspiring causes. So how can businesses engage this generation?

1) Offer professional development opportunities.
Generation Y looks for volunteer opportunities that allow them to use and develop their skills. Instead of focusing purely on the social importance of a cause, emphasize the professional benefits. A volunteer opportunity may pique a Millennial’s interest, but the personal gains can persuade them to commit.

When recruiting customers, this technique will engage new volunteers and create a positive association with your company, both for its social responsibility and its contribution to the individual’s professional development. When it comes to employees, Millennials who volunteer report higher rates of job satisfaction. Besides, these are your future CEOs, shareholders and board members. By nurturing their professional skills now, you’ll reap the rewards later.

2) Show them the impact.
Millennials are looking for meaningful relationships with causes they find truly inspiring. Providing tangible evidence will again engage both employees and consumers. Not only will you increase the probability of future volunteering from both groups, but you will foster a positive image of the company in the public eye.

Short videos, photos and statistics — usually delivered via social media — are a great way to demonstrate your impact and engage young employees and customers alike. Finally, make sure to thank your volunteers. They deserve recognition and are more likely to stay engaged if they feel their work is valued.

3) Clear communication is key.
This generation might be more likely to use social media, but they’re not receptive to a barrage of information. A nonstop flood of useless Tweets, Facebook messages, and emails does little to engage Millennials and it often drives them away. These individuals want to know exactly how they will make a difference, whether it’s through volunteering, donations, investments, or purchases from your company.

Describe volunteers’ precise responsibilities, outline your company’s positive impact, and keep communications concise. Social media can be a great outreach tool, but it’s no replacement for clear communication.

With Millennials, the word entitlement gets thrown around a lot. But maybe high expectations aren’t such a bad thing. Generation Y expects social responsibility from for-profits, and they look for meaningful relationships with organizations and businesses. While they may be initally hesitant, this is a generation that is inspired, committed and fiercely loyal to those that prove their value.

By showing them how and why your company is making a difference, you will have greater success in engaging Millennial employees and customers. More volunteers means a greater impact — and that can only be good.

Access the full Millennial Impact Report here!