Millennials reimagining volunteerism

Ford Volunteer Corps enters its second decade as this first Ford Better World issue looks at community service. From its French military volunteer origins to the digital impact of modern Millennials, giving back to our neighborhoods has changed. Join us exploring issues engaging our communities, from one company’s start in volunteering to service around the world and how Ford innovates to help nonprofits in the future.

“Community service is one of the hallmarks of our company and the Ford family,” Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, told an audience of younger Ford employees gathered at Starfish Family Services in Inkster, Mich., in September. “As we celebrate the incredible achievements of the Ford Volunteer Corps, we are looking to the future with innovative programs that further harness the power of our volunteers and build the next generation of community leaders.”

One of those programs is Thirty Under 30. Starting as a pilot focused on U.S. employees, Ford is selecting 30 employees under the age of 30 years old for a year-long course in 2016 that will hone civic engagement and leadership skills.

The 30 employees will spend the year working with and learning from three nonprofits—United Way, The Salvation Army and Detroit Rescue Mission. Pairing employees with nonprofits allows both groups to learn a younger generation’s perspective of approaches to philanthropy and volunteerism.

Starting with 210 applicants submitting essays, the group was narrowed to 50 finalists. To help evaluate their creativity, the finalists were required to submit 30-second videos explaining why they should be among the inaugural Thirty Under 30 class when it is selected in early 2016.

While education emerges as a prominent pillar in the equation for applicants, their interests and experience range far and wide: promoting women in engineering; preparing disadvantaged children and adults for leadership; eliminating day-to-day survival, nourishment and shelter needs; preserving agriculture, water resources and sustainability; fostering creative critical thinking abilities.

What’s also clear is that people in the generation now entering the workforce not only bring a sense of giving back, but also a hands-on sensibility to how they are viewing nonprofit work. A recent Nielsen survey of 1,000 U.S. individuals over 18 years of age showed 63 percent of the group’s Millennials believe community volunteering is important as compared to 56 percent of the other respondents. More than half of the Millennials said they would volunteer for charity instead of giving money.

Jacqueline Wolverton, who works in finance for Ford’s Lincoln brand, said in a Ford promotional video for the project, “Our generation wants to be more involved. They want to be hands-on. They want to get in the trenches and feel and touch those they are helping, and not just write a check.”

In addition, transparency and authenticity among non-profits rank high among those raised in a digital age where they are accustomed to instantly accessing information from all corners of the Internet.

“I am very cynical when it comes to donating my own money because depending on the organization, monetary donations can be very ambiguous,” said Dina Tayim, a materials analyst in product development for Ford. “We hope our contribution goes to buying materials to build homes, or emergency food packages or blankets, etc., but for all we know it could be going to building overhead fees. Sometimes the only way to be certain you are helping is to be hands on.”

Finally, Millennials are sure to bring a renewed sense of purpose to connecting nonprofits to the people and groups they are seeking to help. “If nonprofits help to create an awareness and understanding about the specific systemic issues that lead to disadvantages, the general population may be more inclined to support nonprofits with time and money,” said Rebecca Fielding, crash safety engineer, Ford Motor Company.