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Are Millennials the Generosity Generation?

Joe Halpern

We all know that millennials are tech savvy, diverse and highly motivated when it comes to advancing their professional careers. But did you know that they're also passionate about social causes? 

Millennials — roughly defined as someone in their late teens to someone in their early 30s and often labeled as “lazy” and “self-centered” by those from older generations — not only want to help make the world a better place, they’re actually doing something about it.

The nonprofit fundraising consultant Blackbaud analyzed the charitable habits of Americans and found that 75 percent of millennials made a financial gift to a nonprofit in 2013, and that they did more volunteer work last year than any other generation.

In addition, Bentley University’s preparedness study found that 88 percent of the millennials surveyed agree that, “It’s a priority for me to work for company that is socially responsible and ethical.”

Kayla Niedziejko is a great example of a young person who wanted to make a difference. Niedziejko had no personal attachments to Alzheimer’s, the irreversible disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. 

But when the soon-to-be senior at Bentley was looking into various internship opportunities, she was excited to get involved. Kayla is currently interning at the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts, where the marketing major is helping get the word out about the organization’s work advocacy, research and support.

Ben Shoham, an Information Design and Corporate Communication major at Bentley, is another example of college student who’s making a difference. He went to the school’s nonprofit fair in the spring of 2013 as a freshman and ended up interning this past fall semester for the Junior Achievement of Northern New England, where he performed a number of tasks including for the organization including marketing and public relations.

“I liked the feeling of contributing to something greater than myself,” Shoham says about working with Junior Achievement, which strives to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy by matching them with mentors.

And then there’s Alissa Palatiello, a 2012 graduate of Bentley. She had never given much thought to the plight of impoverished Africans until she learned about Professor Diane Kellogg’s nonprofit work in Ghana.

“Project Bead gave me the opportunity to be a part of the solution,” says Palatiello, who nows works as an analyst for Wells Fargo Capital in New York City.

Along with five of her former classmates at Bentley, Palatiello continues her involvement with Project Bead, which uses the profits from wholesaling and retailing beaded products made in Africa to help fund education in the developing world.

With recent college graduates competing with more experienced employees, the nonprofit sector can become an enticing career option for many millennials, especially to those who have a high need for socially meaningful work.

And there are certainly a lot of opportunities for young professionals to do “good” work. With 10.7 million U.S. employees, the nonprofit sector makes up just over 10 percent of the nation’s private workforce, ranking it third of all U.S. industries, behind only retail trade and manufacturing, according to the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Employment Data Project.

Given all they’ve gotten out of their nonprofit experiences, it’s no wonder that Niedziejko, Shoham and Palatiello all strongly recommend that young professionals consider working for social service causes.

“Working for a great cause is extremely fulfilling,” Niedziejko says.

“It’s the type of work where you can see the immediate impact of your work,” Shoham adds.

“It’s a chance to apply what you’ve learned in college (and put it) to good use,” says Palatiello, who majored in Economics-Finance

And what do the nonprofits think about their young, enthusiastic and talented volunteers?

“We love our college interns,” says Russell Martin, manager of public relations and marketing at the Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “They have such a complete knowledge of social media and their generation. It’s that demographics of younger people that nonprofits really need to be reaching and engaging now.”

Armed with their tech know-how, the globally connected millennials have the motivation along with the motivation to make a huge impact.

“Young people today are incredibly impressive,” says Colleen Murphy, associate director undergraduate career services at Bentley. “They’re very generous with their time and want to help others.”

Says Fred Smith, director of program development for St. Francis House in Boston, the largest day shelter in New England: “Our interns are an amazing asset. Their knowledge and enthusiasm is unmatched.

“And when I see the good work they do here,” Smith concludes, “I know the world is in good hands.”

Joe Halpern is a freelance writer.