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5 Questions for...Jean Case, CEO, Case Foundation

July 17, 2015

How the digitally native, media-savvy millennial generation is shaping the way people view and bring about social change has been a topic of debate for some time. Are millennials "the giving generation," or are they just  "slacktivists"? Founded in 1997 by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife, Jean, the Case Foundation has been working to engage millennials in social work for the better part of a decade. As part of that effort, the foundation, in partnership with Achieve, an Indianapolis-based research and creative agency, recently released the 2015 Millennial Impact Report: Cause, Influence & the Next Generation Workforce (41 pages, PDF), the eighth in a series of reports that examines the question: How does the millennial generation engage with and support causes?

Recently, PND asked Case Foundation co-founder and CEO Jean Case about some of the report’s findings and  implications.

Headshot_jean_casePhilanthropy News Digest: Since 2010, the Millennial Impact Report series has examined trends in giving and volunteering by millennials. This year's report is focused on company cause work, the factors that influence engagement in the workplace, and the relationship between millennial employees and their managers. Why is it important for millennials to be engaged in giving and volunteering at the workplace?

Jean Case: Millennials play a powerful role in democratizing philanthropy. Now eighty million strong, the millennial generation is one of the most educated, tech-savvy, and idealistic generations ever. At the Case Foundation, we have long recognized the power of millennials to change the world — and that is why our support of the Millennial Impact Project has been critical to the exploration of how they connect, give, and inspire. Throughout our six years of research (and eight reports) with Achieve, we've found that with few exceptions, this generation is consistently willing and eager to "do good." And they choose not to leave their personal passion for doing good at the door but rather seek to integrate it fully into their work and social network of friends and colleagues. If we are going to solve the complex social problems of our era — eradicating deadly diseases, conquering global hunger, scaling sustainable energy solutions — we need this generation to lead the charge.

One aspect of our research which was telling was that 70 percent of millennials volunteered for a cause last year. That number is triple the average volunteer rate of America as a whole, which was just over 25 percent in 2014. Millennial employees value putting their skills and expertise to work in support of a cause, which means employers have a greater opportunity to positively engage with this growing portion of the workforce.

PND: According to the most recent survey, 46 percent of millennial respondents said they were more likely to donate to a company-sponsored giving campaign if asked by a co-worker, while only 27 percent said they were more likely to give if asked by their supervisor. Similarly, 65 percent said they were more likely to volunteer for a company initiative if their co-workers were participating, while only 44 percent said they would if their supervisor participated. What are the implications of these findings for companies looking to engage their millennial employees in "company cause work"?

JC: Millennials now make up a majority of employees — 53.5 million workers to be exact, or more than one in three American workers. We know that they place value on the relationships and bonds they build with co-workers. This is a generation that demands our attention and wants to take its idealism and put it into action in meaningful ways. CEOs and those in leadership need to understand that millennials are influencers who shape the behaviors and purchasing decisions of their larger social circles, so it's no surprise that they tend to be the most inspired by their colleagues and peers, and less so by management. Organizations can take this opportunity to shift away from hierarchical structures and top-down CSR programs and move toward more collaborative cause environments.

PND: The report found that certain kinds of incentives and competitions make giving significantly more attractive to both millennial employees and managers than to non-millennials. Should we interpret this to mean millennials are less motivated than older generations to give for the sake of giving?

JC: On the contrary, millennial employees said their passion for a cause was their main reason for participating in a company-sponsored volunteer project. Other motivations can include prizes and days off, but 77 percent of millennial employees said they are more likely to volunteer if they can use their specific skills or expertise to tackle a pressing social challenge. And we know that the value of skills-based volunteering can be 500 percent greater than traditional volunteering, so companies should capitalize on millennials' strong desire to use their skills for good. Today's forward-thinking companies are looking at the future of CSR and the role that employee cause work, company volunteering, and skills-based volunteering can play, as well as how they can motivate millennials to participate.

PND: The tech sector has come under fire for not reflecting the diversity of an increasingly diverse America. Do you see this changing with the millennial generation? And as a woman who had a twenty-year career in the tech sector before you turned to philanthropy full time, what do you think tech companies need to do to increase diversity in their ranks?

JC: It is quite stunning to realize that in 2015 we still see the lack of diversity in the tech sector. That said, I am encouraged that we are living in a time in which sweeping changes can take hold quickly in society. I'm not sure the change we hope to see will come from inside many of these companies, but change will come.

Our research is clear — millennials want to work for and buy products from companies that share their values. At some point, companies will come under pressure where it hurts — in attracting key talent, competing in the marketplace, even securing important investments — if they don't become more inclusive and level the playing field in their ranks. This means not only in the boardroom, but also on the front lines. I've said before that the mark of millennials is that they turn their idealism into action, and I have every reason to believe they hold the power to drive big change in this area.

PND: You and your husband joined the Giving Pledge campaign in 2010, and in the letter announcing your decision to do so you wrote that "societal objectives can often be met through the prism of entrepreneurial business." Among its many activities, the Case Foundation has supported a number of social enterprise incubators, including the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University. What do you find attractive about social enterprise? And what is it able to do in terms of addressing urgent global issues that more traditional development approaches cannot?

JC: For too long, business has been left on the sidelines when it comes to addressing big social challenges, and as a society we've neglected to leverage the opportunity to bring the entrepreneurial spirit to the hard work of finding solutions. Investing in social enterprises through impact investing is one big way to change that. Impact investments are investments in companies and/or funds seeking to generate both social and financial returns. There is growing momentum in the impact investing sector, as more people want to invest in companies and founders that represent their values or address causes they care about — people like Shazi Visram and Jessica Rolph of Happy Family, who make organic, nutrient-rich baby food at affordable prices for families; or Chuck Slaughter of Living Goods, who empowers micro-entrepreneurs to deliver life-changing products like mosquito nets and AFRIpads across the developing world; or Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun of d.light, who have an ambitious but achievable goal to reach one hundred million people across the globe with inexpensive solar-powered lanterns.

We need the skills, vision, and rigor of these entrepreneurs, and we need the private sector to support the hard work of those whose passion and mission is to address challenges in significant sectors such as education, healthcare, energy, transportation, and more. No single sector — private, public, or NGOs — can go it alone when tackling our most daunting social challenges, whether in communities here at home or around the globe. The rise of this new class of social enterprises represents an important opportunity for unique cross-sector collaboration that can  bring new innovative approaches to the work of making a better world for all.

— Kyoko Uchida 

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