Ping-pong tournaments and foosball rallies. Text-based donations. Ice-bucket challenges.

These are just a few ways companies are thinking outside the box when it comes to raising money for charity, and the generation with the "me-me-me" reputation is driving the shift.

Millennials — who will make up more than half the workforce by the year 2020 — are pushing companies to manage social responsibility in new and innovative ways, according to recent studies. Unlike previous generations, Millennials are more interested in the impact their donations can make today, rather than decades from now, says Derrick Feldmann, president of the consulting firm Achieve and lead researcher on the 2014 Millennial Impact report.

In other words, Millennials don't just want to write a check. The generation born between 1982 and 2004 prefers the experience of individual, skill-based volunteering and want to witness the benefits of the cause work they do.

"Companies won’t have a choice," Feldmann says. "If they want to recruit and retain Millennials, they need to examine their own involvement in cause work as well as the opportunities they give their employees to be engaged in cause work, because their staff wants to make a difference in the world."

At The Coca-Cola Company, the emphasis has shifted from a traditional top-down business approach to philanthropy, to a bottom-up strategy that is inclusive of the Millennial perspective and aligned with community needs, says Lisa Borders, chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and vice president, Global Community Connections.

Using Social Media and Peer Influence

Millennials prefer to learn about volunteer opportunities and causes from their peers online or in person, studies show. They may still give money and time, but they also view their network and voices — via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites — as important assets that can be used to support a cause.



Millennials Give Back
Millennials look for opportunities to find deeper meaning to give back.

In Austin, Texas, a group of tech startups turned a one-time social competition into one of biggest charity-based networking events of the year. The Startup Games began as a social networking event for new tech companies as employees connected with one another over games like foosball, table hockey, shuffleboard, and rock paper, scissors.

"Then we thought, 'How great would it be if we got to give money to charities we were invested in?'," recalled co-founder Gillian Wilson.

Now each participating team chooses a charity to play for and proceeds from the event’s registration and entrance fees go to those groups.

Wilson, a former human resources manager at Austin-based uShip, now leads an effort to launch the games in other cities. "It's definitely taken on a wonderful life of its own," she says. "Everybody's coming together for the greater good ... and it's a great retention tool for companies."

A ‘Concierge Approach’ to Philanthropy

Chicago-based Coyote Logistics, whose Millennial-age employees make up 84 percent of its staff, runs a traditional annual fundraising campaign for a children's research hospital. But it also incorporates many employee-led activities into its social mission, says Jodi Navta, the firm's vice president of marketing and communications.

"When we're not in that fundraising season, we take a concierge approach to philanthropy," Navta said. That may include office-based raffles, mentorship programs, and lunchtime chili-cookoffs whose proceeds go to charity.

She continued, "These Millennials are incredibly passionate about everything they do as long as you let them do it. We make sure we empower them to give to the company and support their social and community efforts, as well."

More companies are also embracing the buy-one give-one model of companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, which donate apparel and eyeglasses to countries in need for every like
item sold. This approach is popular with Millennials, who make up a large portion of its consumer base, according to marketing research.

Expect to see more companies adopting this model, observers say. The Stanford Social Innovation Review calls it "a model of social entreprenuership likely to increase in prevalence and power."

Cause Work that Benefits the Community

Millennial employees are especially appreciative when their employers support causes that contribute to the well-being of local communities, the 2014 Millennial Impact Report found. Factoring this dynamic into its work, The Coca-Cola Foundation has placed an increased emphasis on supporting community well-being and active healthy living initiatives, Borders notes.

"We know Millennials are a health-conscious generation," she says. Working in tandem with Coke's long-term commitment to fighting obesity, these initiatives include grants that support neighborhood yoga programs, community walking trails, and regional bicycling paths throughout Georgia.

Whatever approach a company takes to its cause work, philanthropy in any form leaves a strong impression on Millennials. Fifty-five percent of Millenials who heard about cause work during a job interview said the company’s involvement with helping others helped persuade them to accept the position, according to the Millennial Impact report.

The bottom line, says Borders, is that corporate philanthropy is "critical" to the Millennial generation. 

"As we shape our giving and community and community engagement strategy at Coca-Cola," she adds, "we are including the Millennial perspective, which invites and encourages a more inclusive, fluid and dynamic process."