NORWALK, Conn. — Lane Marmon likes the type of project she can see — and therefore know — is having an impact.
“I love giving back to my community and working together in different areas to figure out how we can make it a better place for everyone,” the 34-year-old Greenwich resident said.
Marmon’s attitude toward altruism isn’t uncommon among her generation, and she’s part of a growing contingent of millennials engaged in philanthropic activity by donating time, money, expertise or through impact investing. That’s despite the fact this generation holds an roughly one-third of the country’s $3.6 trillion in consumer debt as rising student and auto loans outweigh a drop in mortgages, according to UBS.
But now, more than ever, as nonprofits and community foundations are stretched thin financially, they’re turning to millennials for support. Millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000 — surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released in 2016 by the U.S. Census Bureau, and they’re inheriting the wealth of previous generations.
Organizations like Fairfield County’s Community Foundation — which has seen a significant increase in the number of nonprofits requesting funds, as well as an increase in the amount they’re requesting — are taking note, studying the ways millennials are different than their predecessors and looking for ways to actively engage them in philanthropy.
“Millenials are very important,” said Juanita James, FCCF’s president and CEO. “They are the next generation of leadership in every sector. Engaging them in philanthropy and the impacts it can have in addressing societal issues is incredibly important, but so is understanding what’s motivating millennials and how they want to think about philanthropy and not assume they are going to approach it the way previous generations did. We’re seeing millennials want to have a much more hands-on impact and connect with the work and understand the impact of the work. It’s a more active participation.”
Kristy Jelenik, director of development at FCCF, said millennials have been on her radar as a donor and volunteer pool for years.
“Engaging them as early as possible in philanthropy is really important to us,” Jelenik said. “One big challenge is just really educating them that to be involved in philanthropy doesn’t mean that you have to give a $10,000 gift. You could volunteer your time, donate a skill. You can make a donation as little as $10 and it’s going to have an impact in the community.”
Two years ago, FCCF partnered with Merrill Lynch to activate millennial interest in charitable activities by hosting workshops and events explaining the grant-making process and introducing attendees to nonprofits in the area. Chief among the strategies discussed is impact investing, meaning investments made in companies, organizations and funds that generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside — or in lieu of — a financial return.
“Impact investing allows us to expand the dialogue from ‘What goals do you want to pursue for your life?’ to include ‘What goals do you want to achieve for the world around you?’ ” said Kim Paris, impact investing director for Merrill Lynch. “With impact investing, your investments can generate social and environmental impact alongside the potential for financial returns.”
The community foundation has also started a Rising Professional Advisors Council, comprised of millennials who work as professional advisers in fields like law and finance. Marmon, who works for the Darien-based financial planning firm HHG and Company, said she joined the council because she felt it could make a tangible impact in Fairfield County.
“The idea being that people with different areas of expertise get together to exchange ideas on how to help the community and understand each other’s businesses really appealed to me,” Marmon said.
But impact investing and advisory services aren’t the only ways millennials are giving back.
In an annual study conducted by The Case Foundation — The Millennial Impact Report — 84 percent of millennial employees said they made a charitable donation through their office, and 78 percent of those who did not donate through their employers made a charitable donation on their own. Roughly 22 percent of those donations were between $100 and $250, no small sum for a generation supposedly saddled with debt.
The study found education is the top social issue of concern among millennials, followed by employment/wages and health care/the economy. For millennials lacking a secondary degree, their primary social issue of concern was crime.
Lindsay Perry, 34, of Stamford, said she’s always done a lot of volunteer work, and often donates to causes she’s passionate about. For her, that’s education, animals and farming. Though in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, women’s issues and civil rights hit her radar.
“Sometimes it’s about what speaks to you in the moment,” Perry said. “I’m not a Trump supporter, so when he started in office, every decision that he made that made this world worse, I tried to do something small to make it better. So I donated to Planned Parenthood, for example.”
Perry said she looks for one-off volunteer opportunities — an afternoon helping to clean up trash in a park or events she’s interested in where the cost of admission goes to a cause she’s willing to support. And if donating is simple, she’s likely to give more.
These are trends Jeannette Archer-Simons said she has seen at the Norwalk-based nonprofit, Open Door Shelter, where she is the director. She said, like the community foundation, the shelter is shifting its focus to engage more millennials as donors and volunteers.
Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com