What Drives Gen Z: Is It the Experience or the Cause? | npENGAGE

What Drives Gen Z: Is It the Experience or the Cause?

By on Sep 20, 2018


Contrary to what is commonly believed, young people care about, and give to, virtually every major social cause. Obviously, there are some who are more passionate about animal rights, for example, than, say, recycling, but passion isn’t the only driving force for action. For young people, the experience itself is what inspires action and drives engagement.

Gen Z is incredibly socially aware and ready to help. They believe individuals, not governments or even nonprofits, are responsible to tackle the challenges we face and they put their time where their values are: 67 percent have volunteered in the last 12 months.

So, how do you get them involved with your cause? As you approach your campaign, ask yourself these three questions.

  1. What’s the ask?

Young people know they have the ability to make an impact on the causes they care about and want to add value to the organizations they believe in. But, unlike older generations, young people believe donating money will have the least impact. Instead, they want to be actively involved, particularly in ways they can share with others, either online or in person. For the Ice Bucket Challenge, the money made a difference, but the request for donations was ancillary to the primary challenge (take an ice shower or pay up).

When it comes to activating young people, don’t prioritize the actions you want them to take, instead focus on what actions are impactful to them. It may sound simple, but the difference couldn’t be more important. We call this principle, “Fight for the User.” Certain types of actions resonate more than others with young people, like  “Share something,” “Host an event,” or “Make something.”

Give young people options so that each individual finds an opportunity that feels meaningful to them. Whether it’s sharing a personal story about discrimination on social media or creating a young professionals advisory board, offering a variety of ways to get involved is critical.

  1. How much time will it take?

Time is the number one criterion young people use to sort campaigns on DoSomething.org (with less than an hour being the most popular filter).  Actions like signing online petitions, contacting legislators, and sharing social media posts are often viewed as dated or simply ineffective, but these actions actually serve as an important and appealing introduction to causes.

While some online actions may indeed have less impact than donating money or volunteering, these simple actions are super appealing to young people because they require little time and commitment. They allow young people to act on impulse. And our data shows, that once young people have connected with a cause, even via a simple way, many tend to stick around to provide greater help down the road.

  1. How can you get their friends to do it, too?

The first question most young people ask themselves before trying something is “are other people like me doing this?” This also applies to supporting an organization and volunteering. Our data tells us that, for young people, having friends that volunteer with them is nearly twice as important as having the ability to work on an issue they care about deeply.

The Millennial Impact Report (2014 & 2015) confirmed the importance of peer influence noting that 78% of millennials say they prefer doing cause work in groups vs. 22% who prefer doing cause work individually. In addition, 65% of millennial employees said they were more likely to volunteer if their coworkers participated. Peer pressure works, so use it to create social good!


As Managing Director of DoSomething Strategic, Meredith ensures that the work delivered is both thoughtful and impactful. Her passion for creativity and innovation leads her to challenge traditional thinking and deliver breakthrough ideas for DoSomething Strategic’s clients. Meredith’s career has spanned both client and agency roles, where she’s led youth-focused engagement and business-driving strategies for national retail, health, and restaurant brands. She speaks globally on the power of young people and purpose at conferences including ANA, YMS, PSFK, PromaxBDA, &Then, IEG, and Brand ManageCamp. Meredith is an adjunct professor of Public Interest Marketing at Fordham University, a [email protected] contributing columnist, and has served as a judge for the Positive Change Effie Awards and the D&AD Impact Awards. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School where she was a founding member of the Vanderbilt Child & Family Law Clinic. When not striving to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie, Meredith can be found watching a musical or walking through Central Park with her husband and two kids.

Comments (34)

  • Karina says:

    Great information. I have found that this generation is more about what they can do to help by volunteering than donating money.

  • Jenny Stephens says:

    Interesting information. All makes sense. Thanks!

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    Interesting, although I’m not sure that putting everyone into a box according to their age is the best idea.

  • joe says:

    Many from the younger generations often want to give, but have difficulty doing so due to financial circumstances. If we can somehow help them out in one way or another, it could cultivate them into a better situation that will allow them to give to the institution.

  • Karen says:

    I agree with Karina, I have found that this generation is more about what they can do to help by volunteering than donating money.

  • Mary Sommer says:

    Re-framing the questions, often a great approach!

  • KaLeigh says:

    Focusing on donating their time rather than funds is so important. Thanks for sharing!

  • Joe says:

    I’ve noticed the evolution of the “Stewardship” team/department over the past decade move to more of a focus on “Engagement” and this just highlights the fact.

  • Heather says:

    I completely agree that this generation is very politically aware and wants to be involved! Thank you.

  • Stephanie Boyce says:

    I’m going to have to share this with my co-workers!

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    Great stuff! Let’s get them involved!

  • Amy Dana says:

    Great info!

  • Markella says:

    Thanks for this shift in perspective! It’s definitely going to be important to customize our opportunities to suit the kinds of actions that appeal to this generation, instead of being “set in our ways”.

  • Brett Chapman says:


  • Sunshine Watson says:

    Interesting read, thanks!

  • Courtney says:

    Good info! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lawrence Rush says:

    Interesting read. Good things to keep in mind.

  • Crystal says:

    This is great! Thanks so much. It will be interesting to see how Gen Z philanthropic activities change as they get older, get married, and have kids. Will their involvement shift?
    Thanks again!

  • Sage says:

    Volunteering is the social currency for Gen Z. Thanks for the great article!

  • MK says:

    Interesting. Thanks.

  • Linda Mikelson says:

    Interesting article, thank you for sharing.

  • Maggi says:

    We use the gen Z volunteers but we also need the $

  • R.S. says:

    It would be nice to know whether volunteering is above giving money because of a lack of money or a true interest in involvement. I appreciate the insight into what they like to do, but why they do it would be a nice follow up article.

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    Great info.

  • Cathy says:

    Enjoyed the article, thanks!

  • Tammi Burkhardt says:

    Social influence is becoming increasingly important to note within a constituent record for philanthropic purposes.

  • Barb Faasse says:

    Interesting read!

  • Claudia says:

    Interesting and while I agree with most of the points, I don’t care for “generational” generalizations.

  • Clare says:

    Good article, thanks.

  • Ann Nischke says:

    This generation is extremely action oriented. Thanks for the additional info.

  • Liz Ryan says:

    I would also add that I believe this generation motivates each other to get involved and volunteer or donate. In my experience they are very concerned with what their friends/peers are involved in and don’t want to be left out of an opportunity.

  • Dawn says:

    I really haven’t given this much thought before. I will be sure to share it with the Community Outreach Coordinator of our organization. Thanks!

  • Carrie Aranda says:

    I wonder if engaging Generation Z in volunteering now when they are young and have very little money will keep them engaged and turn them into donors when they are established in a career and raising a family. If they become passionate and connected to a mission, will they eventually donate?

  • Christine says:

    Great article thanks for sharing. As a healthcare organization we really struggle with engaging Gen Z as supporters.

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