The Millennial Impact Report (MIR), a multi-year study conducted by Achieve and supported by The Case Foundation, gives great insight on how the most populous generation thinks about and interacts with causes.


For nonprofits, the knowledge this report generates each year is invaluable. It provides useful information on donating and volunteering habits, as well as the mentalities that guide Millennials’ engagement in work, life, and citizenship. If nonprofits pay attention to the results, they can respond strategically, engaging more volunteers and donors, and maximizing their organizations’ impact.


The 2017 MIR, “Millennial Dialogue on the Landscape of Cause Engagement and Social Issues,” seeks “to create a genuine, active dialogue among Millennials and organizations about mutually beneficial cause involvement and approaches to solving societal challenges.”

Phase 1 of the three-phase report has been released, and it provides nonprofits valuable information. Nonprofits can download the full report here, or read the nuts and bolts below.



The 2016 MIR examined how heightened attention to social problems during an election year affected cause engagement. While researchers guessed that Millennials’ engagement in causes would increase, they found that they were wrong.


As a result, the focus of the 2017 MIR aims to generate a dialogue between Millennials and organizations about addressing social problems. Early results indicate that Millennials’ cause engagement is changing from that of 2016.


Research Questions

To begin, researchers initiated a qualitative study with a small sample of Millennials in each of the four regions of the country: North, South, Midwest, and West. Telephone interviews and focus groups sought to answer three questions:


“1. What are the characteristics of social issues that tend to see higher Millennial participation rates?

  1. What are Millennials’ levels of engagement in these social issues, how are levels selected and how do they evolve?
  2. What are the characteristics of Millennials who participate at each level of engagement?”

The outcome of Phase 1 will help researchers “understand what specific elements should be further investigated with a robust sample of Millennials during the subsequent quantitative phase of this research study.”


Key Findings

Initial discoveries of Phase 1 indicate that Millennials have a distinct language when internally conceptualizing and openly discussing their cause engagement. Furthermore, since the 2016 presidential election, they have experienced a surge of energy in volunteerism and civic engagement.


Researchers found that Millennials lacked a “consistent understanding” of terms like “social issue” and “cause,” but noted that “a cause most generally was understood by respondents to be action-oriented solutions to social problems; a social issue was understood more as a concept with wider breadth and often comprising political components.”


Respondents’ definitions and impressions of words like “activist,” “activism,” “advocate,” and “ally” also varied according to each word’s connotation, the participant’s vocal involvement, or the extent to which the participant is involved in planning. Respondents’ willingness to be labeled any one of these terms was somewhat hesitant, and it often depended on how it compared to others in the situation.


Interestingly, while respondents shied from firmly labeling themselves one term or the other, they were not shy about championing far-reaching ideals, which protect liberty and justice for all. Respondents were less likely to describe their cause engagement in terms of tutoring inner-city youth, for example, and more likely to describe it in terms of advocating for healthcare laws or immigration.


Ultimately, Phase 1 suggested that Millennials feel a greater sense of responsibility for America as a whole, and they are focusing their cause engagement to support efforts that will strengthen the laws and institutions of the country.


What does this mean for nonprofits?

Phase 1 findings indicate that nonprofits should think strategically about placing their organizations and missions in the “big picture” context.


Millennials, the largest group of volunteers and donors available, are shifting their attention to the big picture. They are becoming less likely to support causes simply because they have a personal connection to them and more likely to devote their time and dollars to initiatives that support universal ideals.


Millennials are intensifying their efforts to support marginalized communities and promote equality and justice. They indicate a strong sense of responsibility for securing a future in which all citizens are treated fairly and provided for equitably.


As Millennials demonstrate an increased interest in cause engagement, nonprofits should examine their strategies for reaching this motivated audience. Volunteer coordinators and nonprofit fundraisers should develop strong and effective messages to show Millennials how volunteering for or donating to their organization will serve the big picture.


Phase 2, a larger, more robust section of the MIR, is currently underway. During this phase, researchers are using Phase 1 results to identify areas that need further study and quantitative assessment. The final report will be released in the first quarter of 2018.

For more information, consult the Millennial Impact Report’s web site.


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