Millennial Giving Increased By Pro Bono Service

GivingA few weeks ago, I attended one of my favorite events of the year, the PILI Illinois Forum on Pro Bono. Part of the session focused on recruiting volunteer attorneys to work pro bono for many of the organizations in attendance. And while they recruit volunteers from all walks of life, much of the discussion focused on recruiting one segment in particular, the millennials. Here’s the simple question – how do we encourage the youngest generation working in the office, to do more giving outside the office?

Millennial Giving Needs to Peer-Focused

Let me take you back, two years ago, to October 2014. I’m sitting in my living room with a few friends, fellow millennials, of course. And a trivia question comes on the TV: “What does ALS stand for?”

2014, as you might recall, was the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge. For months, millions challenged their friends to either pour a bucket of ice on their head, or donate money to the ALS Association. So obviously, those of us who participated in the challenge, or heard of the challenge, would know what ALS stood for. Except the persons in my room. And the persons on TV. None of us did. (Turns out we weren’t alone.)

See, for many, the Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t primarily about ALS. Rather the challenge was about peer engagement. It was about accepting the challenge from your peers, and demonstrating your success to your peers. According to the Washington Post, peers heavily influence millennial giving. “While previous generations may have been motivated to volunteer or donate by their companies, millennials are much more likely to be influenced by their peers than by their supervisors, 65 percent to 44 percent.”

Pro bono agencies can and should encourage their current volunteers to continually recruit new volunteers. Millennial attorneys are likelier to get involved in a new cause because their friends are doing it. Throughout the year, agencies can think of innovative ways to get volunteers’ friends to participate, in addition to a Donate website button or attendance at an award dinner. Remember, the Ice Bucket Challenge was a huge success primarily because of social media. While client confidentiality often means that much of pro bono work can’t be broadcast online, other achievements can. Recruiting efforts, success stories, fundraisers, challenges, phone banks, ideas that can be Instagrammed and Snapchatted among peers, can all help bring more volunteers in the door.

Millennial Giving Needs To Be Accessible 

For the past several years, the Chicago Bar Association has held an “e-mentoring” program for its young lawyers. Two years ago, I participated in the 14-week program. The program paired me with a young high schooler, my e-mentee. Each week, she emailed me her thoughts on the law-related “Question of the Week.” We would then spend the next week discussing her question via email. Soon, our electronic mentoring relationship turned into an in-person one. We would meet up for breakfast or lunch, and when her family moved out of state, she emailed me for both advice and support.

Our mentoring relationship was well-suited to the both of us. Neither of us traveled great distances to meet each other weekly, we communicated via a medium that we’re both used to utilizing, and we still developed a strong in-person relationship. Moreover, e-mentoring checked off a lot of boxes on my millennial giving list: peer-suggested (check), right in my interest zone (check) and very flexible (check).

Millennials, like everyone, have obligations. If a pro bono program can keep accessibility and flexibility at the core of their volunteer requests, more millennials might be willing to participate. Pro bono agencies could consider restructuring projects to be more short-term or project-based, and offer assignments that work around business hours instead of inside them. Are those ideas realistic? Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Executive Director, Margaret Benson certainly thinks so:

Pretty much everything that defines millennials can also define a good pro bono program. Millennials love technology. Pro bono embraces technology, it’s cost effective and efficient. From connecting with pro bono groups on phones to online video trainings and web-based case management, millennial volunteers can find, learn and do pro bono anytime and from anywhere … Most pro bono programs were founded by baby boomers. Now it’s time millennials made it their own.

Millennial Giving Needs To Be Professional

Here’s another area where pro bono agencies can excel – professional development. In a world where many personal and professional relationships have moved online, millennials are looking for new ways to connect. They want to meet mentors, clients, colleagues, and find new employment possibilities. Pro bono opportunities provide an easy way for millennials to network and meet people who they might not meet in their day-to-day lives.

And it’s not just about networking. It’s also about broader professional development. Millennials want to continue developing their own professional skill-set, and at the same time, use their skills to help causes they care about. Taylor Spratt, a recent law school graduate currently working with First Defense Legal Aid, explains it well:

Millennials care more about causes than specific organizations, so it is important to show them how their pro bono work will relate to that cause and how their knowledge and skills can make a difference while also benefiting them professionally.

Professional development also goes beyond hard skills like legal analysis and brief writing. The millennial “brand” is a reality for millennials. Pro bono agencies can offer millennials formal and informal training that they may not get in their own companies – business development, mentoring, leadership. And leadership is key. For many millennials who are waiting (often impatiently) to take the reins at their own companies, pro bono agencies can provide a whole new pathway to leadership. Giving a 28-year-old a leadership role off the bat may not mesh with your ideal of starting from the bottom and working your way to the top, but if you are looking to encourage millennial pro bono service, offering more leadership opportunities might be a start.

Millennial Giving Needs To Be Transparent

Millennials don’t just want to give to an organization; they want to invest in one. They want to understand where their money and time are going, what the organization leadership believes, and whose lives the organization is changing. This should be a good fit for pro bono agencies. What does your organization do, whose lives have they changed, and how does your cause relate to the general good? Think of sharing your good work through videos, testimonials, infographics, and all the audio-visual ways this information-hungry generation likes to receive and share data. The more transparent you can be, the more likely you are to attract millennials.

Millennial Giving Needs To Be Friendly

Millennials are a diaspora in of themselves. Moving from small towns and suburbs, millennials want to forge relationships with people in their new cities. That effort can be particularly challenging for young attorneys. Social hours, group projects, and peer mentoring are only a few ideas to recruit millennial attorneys into your organization. And for many overworked millennial employees, pro bono socializing even gets the employer stamp of approval.

Millennial Giving Needs To Matter

At the end of the day, no one, not even a millennial, will get involved in a cause they don’t care about. And this is where every pro bono agency will have the easiest job of all. Because what you do does matter, every day, to millions of people across the country. If you start with the why, the rest of your millennial recruiting can and should fall into place. As one millennial aptly put it when I asked her about giving, “Just the state of the world. How can I not help?”

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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