It has been long known that Millennials have changed the landscape of charitable giving platforms and services. The most predominant way has been the digitization of giving, which millennials have been the driving force in.
According to Blackbaud’s Annual Giving Report, in 2016, overall giving amongst the population grew by approximately 1% while online giving grew by nearly 8%. Online donations also amounted to over 7% of all charitable funds, and nearly 17% of online donations were from a mobile device.
With 80 million millennials coming of age, and online being the top preference amongst millennials of ways to make a donation, this trend will continually strengthen.
However, a common consequence of digitization, whether it be related to charity or communication, has been detachment from reality. There is big experiential difference between engaging with a non-profit online then submitting a donation on a company’s website and being engaged with a non-profit through events then making in-person donations. For most, with this experiential difference also comes a difference in the experiences’ impact on oneself.
Despite it not being significantly addressed, there is stigma regarding financial giving towards poverty and community development when compared to being actively participating in community engagement activities. I am not here to bash financial giving, because financial capital is widely accepted to be the most important and required resource to alleviate communities from poverty, but I want to potentially open up people’s mindset towards charity.
Take community projects in developing countries for example. Earlier this summer, I was fortunate to participate in an Engineers Without Borders trip to Guatemala. We executed an on-going sanitation and health hygiene project in one of the poor, rural communities. The project involved implementing pour-flush latrines in various households and teaching proper sanitation practices. The community, like many others in the area, is plagued with health diseases from poor sanitation infrastructure and practices. We also partnered with local organizations and masons to help execute our project, which was essential in overcoming language and trust barriers with the residents.
Initially, when reflecting on the trip, one of the main takeaways was the importance of community engagement in sustainable community development. Instead of sending faculty and students overseas to developing countries, Engineers Without Borders could just provide financial support to these communities. However, there are clear reasons why it is done the way it is.
Throughout our trip, we got to know various families and residents, whether it be through living in their house, playing soccer, working alongside them, or going to local events, like church ceremonies.
When the project first started, which was several years before we went, an important task was educating the local masons about latrine implementation, like how the system works, how to properly analyze appropriate locations to build it, how to effectively mix cement, etc. Training the local masons was an important factor in sustainable development, and was something money could not have done alone.
Community engagement is also important in building the residents’ trust in our team, organization, and project. We did not want the community’s perception of us to be insincere foreigners who do not care about the betterment of the community. Without the community’s trust in us, the members will not accept and adopt our project and its benefits.
When reflecting on trip at the end, however, we had a different perspective. Since our trip was one of many Engineers Without Borders’ trips to this community, by the time we were there the local masons have already mastered the process of implementing latrines. Also, there was a foundation of relationships and trust already in place. Some of our team members and I then asked the question of – why did we make this trip to help do something the community was already effective at doing.
The answer was that the experience was just as much about the impact on ourselves as it was on the community.
At the time, that changed my mindset towards community development. Initially, I had an external mindset focused on how this experience can positively impact the community. When in actuality, a big part of it was how the experience can positively impact myself as a person, and how I will then use it to make positive impacts in other areas of my life.
Us millennials understandably have very little time and income to be involved in full-fleshed community development. My intention was not to call out our generation as detached individuals, and nor was it to say that financial giving alone has no significant impact. Rather, it was to potentially open up people’s mindset towards charity, and to get them to think about it in the sense of how an experience could positively impact oneself, and how it will affect other areas of one’s life as well. It does not have to be any drastic impacts. Something as little as remembering to stay grounded and appreciative of what one has, which influences the way one acts around others, could go a long way.