The Young and the Selfless

giveyoung.org initiative seeks to inspire the next generation of philanthropists


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In the era of the iPhone, millennials are only a few swipes away from spending their money on the perfect car, the right apartment, or a carefully selected brunch spot. But finding the right place to donate their money can present more of a challenge, which is why giveyoung.org strives to make finding a charity as easy as finding a Tinder date.

Rick Van House and his wife, Nicole, originally co-founded giveyoung.org five years ago as a way to generate Alzheimer’s awareness among the younger generation. But soon after launching, the couple decided to expand their mission to promote philanthropic awareness as a whole.

“Once we started with giveyoung.org, the mission was more focused on the next generation and less about supporting nonprofits directly. So it made sense to expose young people to as many nonprofits as possible each year,” Rick Van House says.

The simplicity of giveyoung.org lies primarily in the site’s online “Cause Finder,” where users enter their email, zip code, and the type of charity they’re looking for, such as one that benefits animals, children, or poverty. The website then provides a list of potential matches, along with more information on how users can get involved.

Some 95 percent of nonprofits on the Cause Finder have volunteer opportunities, Rick Van House says. “We try and make sure that that’s the case so that we’re not giving young people only nonprofits that want money.”

At the inception of giveyoung.org in 2011, the company had only partnered with two nonprofits: The American Diabetes Association and an Alzheimer’s-based foundation. Now, they are involved with over 16 nonprofit organizations that participate in their charitable events each year.

The organization’s events are perhaps the most entertaining ways in which the initiative reaches its target demographic of young professionals. The organization’s annual Engage event, which introduces hundreds of young adults to a variety of local charities each year, might be mistaken for a party if you didn’t know better, and that’s not by accident. With photo booths and bars, live entertainment and food, the lively atmosphere of Engage bears a stark contrast to the stuffy rooms and routines that might come to mind when younger generations hear the phrase “charity event.”

“Our parents’ events are lemon chicken dinners, boring presentations, really bad bars, the entertainment’s lame, and it’s just boring,” Rick Van House says. “They send you a paper invite, and it costs $250 (to attend).” 

Rick Van House knows that the 20- to 35-year-olds that giveyoung.org seeks to inspire aren’t likely to shell out $250 for a charity dinner, especially since many of them are recent graduates. Instead, giveyoung.org focuses on using its events and resources as tools to teach young people about giving rather than raising money for selected charities. The hope is that by engaging young professionals now, they’ll be more likely to become reliable donors later.

“There’s a huge gap when you come out of college before you become an established professional and have a decent income,” Rick Van House says. “Expecting all of these different nonprofits to try to talk to that gap seems crazy. I think where giveyoung.org has a sweet spot is actually talking to those people post-college and trying to get them involved.”

Still, talking to post-college grads can be a challenge. As Rick Van House puts it, “This generation has a 140-character attention span, so things have to be fast and frequent … video, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email … There’s very little traditional media used in any of this communication.”

But even while giveyoung.org seeks to connect with millennials through a digital-first approach, the organization also aims to include those who are further along in life.

“It’s less about age and more about … where you are in your cycle of giving,” Rick Van House says. “You could still be really youthful and giving at 40 because you haven’t had time to figure it out.” 

Looking ahead, Rick Van House plans to develop a new interactive program that will supplement the Engage event, including a workshop designed for younger, corporate staff members eager to learn more about philanthropy. Eventually, the initiative also hopes to expand its reach beyond the Detroit market. 

This August, giveyoung.org held its first ever
Engage event in Chicago, and Rick Van House says after hosting a successful event there, the initiative has its sites set on expanding beyond the Midwest.

“Once people understand the importance of educating the next generation of philanthropists, I think giveyoung.org could be something that’s in every city,” Rick Van House says.

For more information, visit giveyoung.org

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