Millennials don't give all that much to charity themselves, but they're slowly making the United States more charitable overall.

According to research by fundraising firm Blackbaud, Millennials born between 1981 and 1995 make up 25.9% of the population, but account for just 11% of total U.S. charitable giving. The $481 they give on average is less than the $732 given by Generation X (1969-1979) and the $1,212 given by Baby Boomers (1946-1964), but there's more to Millennial giving than the dollar amount.

While 72% of Baby Boomers give to charity and 59% of Generation X does the same, 84% of Millennials give to charitable organizations. That isn't exactly easy for Millennials, the youngest of whom face a 7.2% unemployment rate at ages 20 to 24 and 14.5% unemployment for ages 18 and 19, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's well above the overall 4.1% unemployment rate and, for college students, is compounded by student loan debt in excess of $37,000 per graduate, according to student loan analysis site Cappex.com. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says that student loan debt has risen from $510 billion a decade ago to $1.4 trillion today, with 9.6% of all those student loans past-due.

Millennials are giving what they can at a time when Americans are giving less than they ever have. According to a study conducted by Indiana University's Lily Family School of Philanthropy, the percentage of U.S. households that give to charity dropped from 68% in 2003 to 56% in 2015. The amount of money we gave during that span also dropped, from $1,024 on average to $872.

However, online giving increased 7.2% in 2016, and Millennials are playing an outsized role in changing how the U.S. donates. According to research firm Massolution, Millennials make up 33% of donations on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe or YouCaring. Also, as the Better Business Bureau's Give.org discovered, Millennials were the most likely (60%) of any generation to have donated to hurricane relief after Harvey, Irma and Maria last year, but also more likely (79%) to have researched hurricane charities than Generation X (59%) or Baby Boomers (56%).

A lack of cash didn't stop Millennials from donating last, either. According to financial site Bankrate.com, only 29% of Millennials favored monetary donations. They were far more likely to donate clothes, food and other supplies (41%) and volunteer their time (27%). While 22% of American adults gave more in 2017 than they did last year -- almost twice as many as the 12% who are giving less -- Millennials are showing how to make the most impact with the least cash.

"Overall, the most popular reason people gave more is because their income rose, followed by a desire to support victims of recent hurricanes and other disasters," said Bankrate.com analyst Robin Saks Frankel.

With the eldest Millennials already well into parenthood, they're also passing their values onto the next generation. According to the Give.org survey, half of Millennial parents always research charities before donating, compared to 37% of both Generation X and Baby Boomers. But 61% of Millennial parents have talked about charity with their children in the past year, and they are introducing their children to more types of charity than other parents.

They're also trying to make those around them and their children more charitable as well. A poll conducted by Morning Consult for Fortune found that nearly two-thirds of Millennials are somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gives to charity than one that does not. Millennials also were more likely than other generations to buy products from a company that gives to charity or to recommend that business to a friend.

Those companies are coming around. According to a survey by accounting firm Deloitte, 82% of Millennials says employers are directly involved in issues, charities or social initiatives that are important to them. While just 54% of Millennials get to contribute to charitable causes in their workplace, 77% of those who do, have taken full advantage of it.

  • 40% have followed or taken an active interest in a charitable cause through their employer
  • 30% became and active volunteer or organizer
  • 30% made regular donations through their employer
  • 23% did fundraising through sponsorship or by organizing collections and events

Millennials still have a long way to go before the value of their charitable giving can be fully assessed. But with charitable organizations, employers and even their own children affected by their approach, their impact may be felt far beyond the bounds of their generation.

"Despite negative stereotypes about Millennials, our survey research shows that savvy Millennials are raising the most charity-conscious generation in history," says Art Taylor, president and CEO of Give.org.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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