Via Georgetown University Center for Social Communication Blog

I’m a “Slacktivist.”

At least, that is what the Internet tells me after I perform a quick search on “Millennials and Activism.” According to myriad voices, my generation is known for creating and implementing “Slacktivism,” a digital action plan in the form of online clicks, Facebook likes and media sharing surrounding political and social causes. The term is controversial: It has been used to describe this young generation’s “cheap” attempt at political action: Changing ones’ profile picture in support of a social cause; “Liking” politicians on Facebook or Retweeting them on Twitter; and using a specific hashtag (#BringBackOurGirls) or taking part in viral campaigns (the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) in support of a larger cause or relevant issue. All of this in place of actual volunteer work or donations.

However, our generation is far more complex than a simple retweet in support of X cause. I debate this purely because of my own efforts to make a change. Last semester, I started an after-school journalism program in a charter school in Syracuse, New York. Nine other journalism majors and I would leave class and walk to the school to teach high school students newswriting and inspire a love of storytelling. I am continuing the initiative this fall.

I know though that I am not the only Millennial out there trying to make a difference. In fact, there are numbers to prove it. We are recognized for volunteering in torrents for organizations like Teach for America and for donating to charities at a higher rate (87 percent) than our elders. And just because we are online, doesn’t mean we aren’t politically and socially conscious: In 2013, the Harvard Institute of Politics found that Millennials who were actively engaged on social networking sites had higher levels of political engagement and stronger partisan identity.

Still, there is more to the story than just quantitative analyses. At the most recent Committee of Millennials meeting, members of W2O’s New York office discussed why they support certain causes, the influence of collegiate charity involvement and the need to adjust the charity space to fit the digital age.

Christiana Pascale explained the need for Millennials to have a connection to the cause prior to getting involved. “If it is personal to me, if it is for a cause that has affected my life or someone close to me, then I am more likely to get involved and donate,” she said.

Pascale supports THON, otherwise known as the Pennsylvania State University IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, a yearlong effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. Pascale says that, by remaining involved in the cause, she gets to give back to a cause she supports and remain involved with her alma mater.

“It’s always nice to have that connection to your school, especially for a good cause,” she said.

College is a notable time for Millennials to become invested in causes and develop the roots for continued involvement postgrad. Olivia Zucosky started a chapter of the Make-a-Wish charity on Colgate College’s campus and plans to remain involved in the cause after her graduation next spring.

“In college, you have time to start causes on your campus with your friends for a cause you are both passionate about,” Zucosky said.

However, the ability for Millennials to remain active and volunteer for causes they are interested in becomes limited when they enter the working world. Therefore, many turn to online donations as opposed to in-person volunteering efforts to offer support.

Lauren Barbiero explained that on-site volunteering often takes up too much time compared to financially supporting the cause online with a few simple clicks. “If it is online, that means it is easy enough to get involve with and to donate to,” she said.

Digital tools such as websites and social media channels are advancing the ways in which Millennials are donating and becoming involved in charities. Call-to-action buttons on organizations’ websites easily direct users to donation pages. By entering a code into iMessage and hitting send, Millennials are able to donate and support causes from their iPhones. Organizations are active across social media platforms to spread their messages across younger demographics.

“As charities and organizations become more digital, more social, it will become easier to recruit people to support and volunteer,” Anke Knospe said. “The digital age is going to revolutionize how people donate and support certain causes, especially for Millennials.”