By Patrick Yeagle

For all the talk about the Millennial generation, one thing is clear: young people’s participation in philanthropy is crucial to the well being of nonprofits.

Nowhere in Springfield is that better understood than at The Hope Institute for Children and Families, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with a new campaign aimed at cultivating the next generation of givers.

Founded in Springfield in 1957 as Hope School, The Hope Institute offers education and job training for people with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

Clint Paul, president and CEO of The Hope Institute, says the need for autism services is important because of the condition’s prevalence. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in every 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder nationwide. Paul says families which aren’t equipped to raise a child with autism can quickly become overwhelmed.

“Many families dealing with autism are living in chaos, with locks on their doors and windows,” he said. “These services give families their lives back.”

Sarah Jennings, chief development officer for Hope, says reaching young donors requires a different approach than more mature generations. The advent of social media has simultaneously made it easier to connect with people but harder to stand out.

“We’re engaging younger generations who are maybe not used to receiving information in the mail,” Jennings said. “They’re much more inclined to look at electronic communications – social media in particular. A whole new market of methods to reach younger donors has really taken off in the charity world. I’ve found that I was typically working closely with a more traditional donor, so this is sort of new.”

Data compiled by fundraising platform shows differences among generations in terms of volunteerism, giving rates and causes supported. The Millennial generation – defined as those born from 1977 to 1995 – represents about 11 percent of total money donated to nonprofits. They also have a volunteer rate of almost 22 percent and favor giving to organizations supporting human rights, international development, child development and victims of crime or abuse. That information matters to nonprofits because Millennials now make up a quarter of the U.S. population and have surpassed the previously dominant Baby Boomer generation – those born from 1946 to 1964 – in size.

“As baby boomers age, nonprofits and charities are really looking at how that wealth is transferred,” Jennings said.

The data show that Millennials and the older Generation X cohort – those born from 1965 to 1976 – stand to collectively inherit $40 trillion from older generations. In perhaps a signal of what’s to come, the data also show that 84 percent of employed Millennials donated to a nonprofit in 2014. That likely means young people are eager to give but currently lack the means of older generations.

As part of its strategy to adapt for younger donors, Hope’s Give 60 campaign asks young people for a one-time gift of $60 – in honor of the organization’s 60th anniversary. Jennings says the message to young donors is that it doesn’t take much – like foregoing coffee – to have a positive effect.
“The idea is to trade small luxuries for big impact,” she said.

One method of getting Hope’s message in front of younger eyes has been peer-to-peer fundraising. Hope is using the Internet fundraising platform and the social media hashtag #Give60 to reach potential donors online.

Jennings points to research which shows donors are more likely to give when they are shown examples of an organization’s successes. To that end, Hope has developed a series of videos telling the stories of some of its clients. One client, Hannah, has Down Syndrome and was able to go to get a job through Hope’s vocational program. Chase, a client with autism, was showing delays in speech development until enrolling at Hope, where his vocabulary and communication skills quickly grew.

Alysse Aiello Hewell, marketing director at Troxell Insurance in Springfield, is a member of The Hope Institute’s Junior Circle. It’s a group of young women who have committed to supporting the school. The Junior Circle is an offshoot of the Ambassadors of Hope, a group of patrons who have been supporting the school for years. Hewell says she finds it important to give because others have given to her, and because she wants to be a role model for her daughter.

“I have been lucky enough to receive countless acts of generosity, support and guidance throughout my life through family, friends, co-workers and other individuals,” she said. “There have been people who have invested their time in me to support my personal and professional growth. These efforts have allowed me to shape my life in a very positive, meaningful way. I feel it is my obligation to return the generosity, with the hope that others may benefit, even in some small way.”

Hewell’s dedication to The Hope Institute stems from the school’s own commitment to clients.
“The efforts undertaken at Hope School are solely implemented to enrich the lives of other people,” she said. “I gravitated towards Hope School because they have a broad spectrum of initiatives to address the needs of a much larger group of people. I’ve seen firsthand how Hope School has the ability to change the lives of families and children.”

While Hewell recognizes that young people may not have the financial means to donate, they do have time and energy, which she says can be just as valuable.

“If younger generations do not continue to show interest in these causes,” she said, “there could be a point later in our lives where they cease to exist, which would be a detriment to the community as a whole.”

Clint Paul, Hope’s president and CEO, notes that state funding for autism services has been gutted by the ongoing state budget crisis.

“The need is so great, but there aren’t enough resources to handle it,” Paul said. “A lot of individuals who are uninsured or under insured are not getting the services they need.”

That makes it crucial to cultivate a new generation of philanthropists, he says.

“It’s very import because as we see across our state government, there is not enough money to go around to fund everything completely,” he said. “I don’t see that changing any time soon.”