They are diverse, entrepreneurial, determined, and, of course, technologically savvy. Born between 1996 and 2010, the oldest members of Gen Z are coming of age, and their reputation is turning out to be defined by more than their status as the world’s first true digital natives. Gen Z is becoming known as an engaged, pragmatic, and activist generation that loves to make things in the real world. 

Having grown up or been born in a post-9/11 world where concerns about the environment, terrorism, the economy, and political discord have been center stage, Gen Z is aware and determined to make the world a better place. When it comes to giving, this young generation holds bright promise for making an impact and creating new means of addressing important issues.

PLNU student Lauren Perez, who is studying criminal justice and interning with PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation, is one of the older members of Gen Z as a soon-to-be college senior. She says of her generation, “We’re going to talk about issues. [When we see a problem], the whole idea of not dealing with it because you are young is fading away. We want to be the generation that fixes it.” 

How They Give

Gen Z is a young generation – its oldest members have just entered the workforce in the past few years, and its youngest members are still in elementary school. With that in mind, it’s clear that the full extent of Gen Z’s philanthropic role in society is yet to be seen. Still, members of Gen Z have already shown a penchant for meaningful giving of time, talent, and treasure.

Financial Gifts to Charity and Nonprofit Organizations

Experts believe Gen Z will be a pragmatic generation determined to save money rather than spend it; however, this proclivity doesn’t seem to prevent its members from giving to causes that matter to them. Though many members of Gen Z have not yet entered the workforce, a significant number of those who have reached their teen years have already donated to a charitable cause. Both Guidestar and The Guardian have reported that more than 30 percent of Gen Z members have already donated money. According to the 2017 Global Trends in Giving Report, the top causes to which Gen Z gives include youth, animals, and education. 

Several sources indicate that approximately 60 percent of Gen Z has been motivated to give by learning of a need through social media. According to Nonprofit Tech for Good, “They learn about causes that are important to them from family, friends, and the social profiles of others. This authentic way of discovery leads to more engagement, and it’s a big reason why nonprofits should add social fundraising to their fundraising toolkit.”

Experts believe Gen Z will be a pragmatic generation determined to save money rather than spend it; however, this proclivity doesn’t seem to prevent its members from giving to causes that matter to them.

PLNU students who give agree. Conner Brandenburg (19) graduated in May with a degree in philosophy. He also took many chemistry courses and is now working on a medicinal chemistry internship. During his time at PLNU, Brandenburg served on ASB for three years and worked in the Admissions Office. He was the first student to give – at 12:03 a.m. – during PLNU’s annual Day of Giving, called Green4Gold. 

“Social media serves as an excellent tool,” he said. “We used it all the time in ASB. I have learned so much from friends through social media about social activism.”

Senior Cameron Catanzano is a managerial and organizational communication management major who tithes 10 percent of his income each month and gives to both PLNU’s Lent Giving Campaign and the university’s Beauty for Ashes Scholarship. Like Brandenburg, social media is one place he learns about giving opportunities. Catanzano said technology enhances “the number of organizations we can learn about and donate to, as well as the issues we can become informed about.”

Gifts of Time and Talent, Voice and Activism

In addition to giving financially, many teenagers and young adults care about volunteering. A study by Millennial Branding and Internships.com found that more than three-quarters of teens say volunteering is important to them. The Atlantic reports that more than a quarter are already giving their time. True, some students are required to accrue volunteer hours as part of their school curriculum, and others volunteer to bolster their college applications or to gain job experience. But much of the time given by students is also motivated by a sincere desire to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others. 

Gen Z is moving on from passive forms of social and political engagement. Today, youth are using social media to mobilize others to engage in the real world.

In addition to traditional volunteer roles, today’s youth are using their facility with online tools to enact and demand changes in the real world. Social media is no longer simply a tool for “slacktivism,” a term given to social media movements that mimic activism is some ways without demanding much from those who engage. While the oldest members of Gen Z might have taken on the Ice Bucket Challenge as children or posted filters on their profile images to show support for causes, Gen Z is moving on from passive forms of social and political engagement. Today, youth are using social media to mobilize others to engage in the real world. Brandenburg and PLNU’s ASB did this to raise money for student scholarships. Notable larger scale examples include the March for Our Lives campaign and the Youth Climate Strike, which were both rapidly organized using social media as a primary tool.

In a March 2018 CNN article, it was noted, “The March for Our Lives crowd is distinctly bred online. It’s not just the SpongeBob memes or their Tumblr-esque homemade signs. It’s the way they organize, the way social media is used as a means rather than an end. That in and of itself is an antidote to slacktivism, which sees no necessary action beyond a post, share or like.” 

Socially Responsible Spending

Though Gen is interested in donating money, they are also savvy about where and how they spend money as consumers. Research from DoSomething Strategic suggests that 67 percent of Gen Z teens and young adults would or have already stopped making purchases from a company if its practices do not align with their values. What’s more, many members of Gen Z actively seek to make socially responsible purchases and to consider the impact of their spending on others and on the environment. In this way, even though many are too young to vote in political elections, Gen Z is able to give influence through their spending habits.

“The phrase that comes to mind is the triple bottom line,” said Catanzano. “The things that I buy and the ways I engage economically beyond donations have large impacts. I am willing to pay a slight premium when I consider the triple bottom line. Ultimately, it doesn’t affect my budget too much when I decide to use the local gas station or to buy organic produce [and these choices come] with all sorts of environmental and economic benefits.”

Still Catanzano emphasized that, for him, socially responsible purchasing “is at best complementary to things like donations and reduced consumption of unnecessary goods”; it shouldn’t replace those other things. Values-based decision-making is important to him across the board.

67 percent of Gen Z teens and young adults would or have already stopped making purchases from a company if its practices do not align with their values.

“I don’t want to stop at donations,” he said. “I put much of my savings into things like renewable energy stocks. Pretty soon, Gen Zers are going to start managing their wealth through IRAs and all sorts of other savings accounts, and I know that I won’t check my values at the door. Still, as I said before, this does not entirely get rid of the need for donating or tithing. When I put money in Tesla or Waste Management that is very different than the money I tithe. They complement each other beautifully, but it would be sad if the only ‘donations’ I gave had to do with buying products for myself or deciding where I’m going to build my personal savings.”

Lauren Perez noted that Catanzano’s approach is representative of other PLNU students she knows.

“Here at Point Loma, it’s ethical business and fair trade. People care. They say I want to learn more so I can try to consume in a more sustainable way or buy from ethical businesses.”

Some students go even further, determining to start socially responsible businesses themselves. One model is represented by companies like TOMS shoes, where for every pair of shoes purchased, another is given to someone in need. 

PLNU business majors Nathaniel Hosmer, who is studying finance, and AJ Crawford, who is studying marketing, are opting for another route. They want to create a business solution to meet a need directly. The two are partners on PLNU’s speech and debate team, and it was on the bus back from a tournament that they first hatched their plans to start a values-driven business.

Here at Point Loma, it’s ethical business and fair trade. People care. They say I want to learn more so I can try to consume in a more sustainable way or buy from ethical businesses.

“We wanted our company to generate some social good,” Hosmer said. “The proceeds would be a cherry on top. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pro-capitalist, but I like the value-first model because of the power it gives us to do good while retaining control and the ability to make a profit. We want to flip the model to generate money by helping people and then giving on top of that. ”

The place they decided to start was with a company they are calling WriteUp, which is just beginning to take pre-orders for its stationary and letter-writing guide. 

“We want to make profit from positivity,” said Crawford. “We want to connect our profit to how much good we are doing. There tends to be a lot of division between social justice and making money. We wanted to fuse the two.”

Their particular business idea grew out of research the two did that suggested handwritten letters can help people in crisis. Crawford’s older sister committed suicide when he was younger, and his younger sister, an army veteran, has also struggled with mental illness. Their struggles and his experience wanting to help them inspired their research into what might make a difference. Though Hosmer and Crawford especially hope their products will help people with depression or at risk of suicide, they also like the idea of handwritten letters lifting people’s spirits in general. Though their business isn’t yet off the ground, the idea behind it is representative of the kind of problem-solving, entrepreneurial careers many members of Gen Z hope to pursue. 

Related Article: The Roots of Giving Fair offers a place for the community to shop and learn about ethical consumption.

Why They Give

Whether it’s time, talent, treasure, or voice, Gen Z gives to support causes they care about, which is what motivates most donors in general. Sources suggest that Gen Z prefers giving to solve a problem rather than to meet a need. In other words, they want the changes they make to last whenever possible. Research also suggests that Gen Z prefers active involvement with causes. Rather than simply being on an honor roll of donors, they want to volunteer, advocate, or otherwise participate as much as possible. PLNU students affirmed this.

“I liked giving to Green4Gold because it was something that seemed to have an immediate impact on my own environment, and I’ll be able to see it in my time at PLNU,”  said Brandenburg. “I think that’s so cool.”

Catanzano said, “I like to give to support things that I care about. I’m a surfer and outdoorsy person, so I donate to Surfrider Foundation. I like giving to closer things to me like Beauty for Ashes and a church I visited with a homeless congregation – things with a big significance in my life.”

Gen Z prefers giving to solve a problem rather than to meet a need. In other words, they want the changes they make to last whenever possible.

Conclusion

According to a report on giving by Blackbaud, a software company that supplies nonprofit organizations, “As of now, [Gen Z] represent[s] about two percent of the giving pie, but they are incredibly powerful when they decide to raise money by influencing others through digital technologies. It will be decades before they become a major force in philanthropic giving. When they do, their giving behavior may reflect their distinctive racial and ethnic diversity, their status as digital natives, and their social cohesiveness. Time will tell.”

For now, Gen Z is already having an impact for causes that matter to them. Through financial gifts, advocacy, volunteering, and responsible purchasing, they are aiming to improve both the present and their future.

Related Article: What’s to blame for why many who make up Gen Z are turning away from the church?