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Introducing Millennials to Santa Barbara County’s Charitable Giving

It was a rather routine visit to a local music store with his “Little” from Big Brothers Big Sisters, Santa Barbara County that changed the way that Phillip Gilley thought about philanthropy.

Gilley, a 23-year-old at the time, was seeking a way to make a meaningful connection with his “Little” by sharing his passion for the guitar. Co-founder Roderick Hare, a big Brother himself years earlier, had also experienced the transformative power of music to connect. Gilley’s “Little,” however, was not interested in the guitar and instead wanted to play drums. Not having a drum set, Gilley took his “Little” down to the local music store to teach him how to play, which soon became a regular outing. Realizing that this was not a sustainable model, Gilley wondered why more youth did not have access to instruments like guitars and drums, keyboards, DJ gear and more. This curiosity led to starting Notes for Notes™, an organization that offers youth the opportunity to explore, create and record music for free. Ten years in, Notes for Notes has 17 studios in Boys & Girls Clubs and after-school facilities throughout the country.

“The bonds that form from creating music together are both invisible and transcendent. What started out as just an idea to bring the resources and freedom to explore and record all types of music has become something much larger than we ever imagined. It is an honor to wake up everyday and follow this mission.” said Gilley, now in his 30s.

As millennials - individuals born approximately between 1980 and 2000 - expand to comprise the majority of the workforce, they are not only expected to be on the receiving end of a projected $59 trillion transfer in wealth, but are also expected to give about $20.6 trillion of it to charity. However, as shown by Gilley’s vision to start Notes for Notes, millennials tend to view philanthropy very differently than their parents and grandparents and want the chance to be more directly involved in a cause that they care about.

“Watching the students gravitate toward certain instruments and express themselves in different ways is the best part of my job,” said Gilley. “I get to see how they improve over time and I feel like I am directly making a difference in their lives.”

According to the Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Project, 85 percent of millennials not only give money, but will also volunteer to support a cause that they believe in. The research suggests that this is primarily because millennials are distrustful of institutions and want to see that their money has a directly impact. This has led rise not only to an increase in new organizations that have grown out of millennial passions, such as Notes for Notes, but also highlights an interesting division in the philanthropic space between the way millennials and the generations before them give.

With increased lifespans, both generations are still active in giving charitably. However, while millennials tend to prioritize causes, transparency and impact, prior generations traditionally favor supporting an established institution. This leaves nonprofits trying to understand how to bridge that gap to attract both types of donors.

“Millennials are not only extremely focused on outcomes, but they often look for nonprofits that either provide hands-on volunteer activities or collaborative fundraising opportunities,” said Candace Winkler, President & CEO of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. “As millennials become a larger part of the philanthropic landscape, nonprofits will need to rethink how they attract and maintain donors. For example, I think that nonprofits that create giving circles and provide donors with opportunities to engage beyond writing a check will likely benefit.”

In addition to finding ways to show millennials the direct impact of their charitable giving, nonprofits are learning that they also need to adapt to online and social giving and produce sophisticated storytelling that creates an experience in order to attract the millennial donor in the first place.

“As we continue in our strategic planning year, we have learned from focus groups and surveys that we need a more compelling website and friendlier giving platform to engage a more diverse audience,” said Barbara Andersen, Chief Strategy Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “This will not only help us more fully engage our current donors, but will also help us attract new and younger donors to the Santa Barbara Foundation.”

The Santa Barbara Foundation is also trying to bridge this generational gap in giving by convening a group of millennial staff members into a Next Gen Task Force. While still newly formed, “Next Gen” plans to hold its first public event with Party for Our People, which is a new online giving platform started by two millennial women in Santa Barbara. The platform allows users to raise money for a nonprofit organization of their choosing and then have an actual “party” in a bar or restaurant to spread awareness and celebrate raising money for a cause they share.

After creating a selection process, Next Gen decided to hold a “party” on October 3 from 5-7 at Lama Dog for the Mental Wellness Center. For more information about the event or how to get involved with the Santa Barbara Foundation’s millennial engagement, visit the webpage or contact Cody Howen, Donor Services Associate and Next Gen Task Force facilitator, at
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