Is Consumer Charity the Future of Fundraising?

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As the Millennial generation trades school halls for office spaces, lines between traditional spheres (like home vs. work) are becoming increasingly blurred. Younger workers trawl X at the office and answer work e-mails in their pajamas. They talk about work over the Sunday brunch and post Instagram photos between meetings. Home life and work life aren’t exclusive from one another.

Philanthropy is changing, too, and the lines between consumerism and philanthropy are blurring. Vendors with philanthropic missions are becoming more and more popular, especially among Millennials. A huge majority of Generation Y individuals — a group that is set to become the generation with the most spending power in history — are backing companies with charitable leanings. They’re more likely to support philanthropic companies than non-philanthropic ones, and most believe that for-profit companies are obligated to lend economic value for their societies.

Imagine the bake-sale fundraisers of yesteryear rewritten to appeal to larger groups of people. It’s not parents selling brownies for the PTA; it’s major manufacturers selling everyday necessities for a greater good. Non-profit companies like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker — with their famous one-for-one model — are prime examples of companies that sell goods and do good with the proceeds. They both contribute goods (shoes and glasses, respectively) to people in need. It’s a win/ win situation — consumers have the goods they need and they’re doing good with their purchase.

Other nonprofits are getting in on the action. Feeding Children Everywhere, an organization based in Orlando, Florida, sells t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “This Shirt Fed 40 People.” Buyers get the product they want and the satisfaction of knowing that their purchase did good.

People are choosing to use their power as consumers to do social good, and the theme is popping up all over the nonprofit world. Organizations are selling items like t-shirts, whistle necklaces, bracelets, shoes, glasses, and more. Programs like Amazon Smile, which allows a small percentage of shoppers’ purchases to be donated to a nonprofit of their choice, are catching on.

So what does it all mean? Here’s a breakdown:

1. Millennials are poised to become major consumers

Generation Y is set to become the generation with the greatest spending power in history. We’re finally getting established in the workforce and have (some) disposable income.

2. Millennials want to change the world

Millennials are wildly idealistic and are willing to use their consumer power to bring about social change. Every generation has wanted to change the world, of course, but Millennials are unique in that they expect even for-profit companies to do social good. They’re also eager to use their roles as consumers to change the world.

3. Vendors and nonprofits that speak to Millennials as consumers and as idealists are thriving

TOMS Shoes provides shoes and the knowledge that buyers help people in need. Warby Parker sells glasses and the chance to give sight to someone else. Feeding Children Everywhere offers t-shirts and the opportunity to feed 40 people. Amazon Smile lets shoppers donate part of their purchase to a charity. All of them are thriving. See a pattern?

4. Nonprofits have a unique opportunity to speak to Millennials both as consumers AND as social activists.

Tapping into “consumer charity” is an interesting prospect for lots of nonprofits. What products could nonprofits offer to their younger fans? How would the proceeds from those products be used to do good? Millennials are blurring the lines between consumerism and philanthropy. How can nonprofits adapt to take advantage of that?

Not every organization should worry about coming up with a line of trendy t-shirts or trinkets to sell on their websites. It won’t always fit with the organization’s mission, and it’s’ not a model that would work for everyone. But, as Millennials move into more stable jobs and start earning steady incomes, it’s certainly an interesting concept to consider!

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