Guest post by Ryan Steinbach
Millennials are rethinking some of the most prevalent cultural norms in our society. Jobs aren’t just about making ends meet. They are an opportunity for impact. Products don’t just satisfy a need . They endorse a cause or ideal.
What this represents to me is a demand for more responsibility in the well-being of our society. As a millennial myself, I identify with the desire to have a positive impact, but a couple years ago I discovered a disconnect in this pursuit. We care about the social impact of what we do, we care about the social impact of what we buy, but we don’t seem to realize the social impact of how we use our money.
I was reminded of this disconnect while attending the Oikocredit USA Summit 2013. In one of the sessions, the Managing Director of Oikocredit International explained that Oikocredit’s average impact investor is between the ages of 60 and 65. One of their objectives going forward is to engage a younger investor base. Other impact investing organizations I talked with at the summit expressed similar motivations.
If millennials are so concerned about having a social impact, why haven’t they embraced the idea of impact investing? For me, there are two big reasons.
1) The first reason is marketing. From what I’ve seen, impact investors have largely adopted the ‘field of dreams’ (“build it, and they will come”) marketing strategy. They see how excited millennials are about having an impact so they’ve decided that tapping the millennial market is simply a matter of accessibility. They lowered investment minimums, established online platforms, and waited with arms wide open for millennials to flock to them.
That’s not how marketing is done and, needless to say, it didn’t work. Impact investing organizations need to capture millennials with compelling narratives. They need to reach out and engage millennials. They need to give millennials something extra.
I’d argue that millennials are one of the most highly sought after market segments in the United States (second after retiring boomers). If impact investing organizations want to capture the millennial market, they’re going to have to do more than just be there.
2) The second reason impact investing hasn’t been embraced is perception. At the Oikocredit USA summit, one of the panels featured a millennial investor who discussed his motivations to invest. He said that when he asked his friends and peers why they don’t invest for impact, the overwhelming response was, “I don’t have any money to invest.”
What comes to mind when you think about investing? Gordon Gecko in Wall Street? Facebook’s IPO? Warren Buffet? The perception is that only super-rich white guys are investors. Yet, we can make an impact investment through an organization like Oikocredit with as little as $20.
Yes, you can be an impact investor for $20.
According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, 83% of millennials surveyed made a financial gift to an organization in 2012. Why not use that money for a good cause AND get it back in a couple years (plus interest!)? Am I the only millennial seeing the win-win?
This brings me to another point I want to make – we don’t have to invest more money to have an impact. We can just change how we’re using what we have. Do you have a retirement plan at work? That’s an investment. What are you endorsing with your 401(k)? Do you have a bank account? Banks use your money to make investments and loans. Who is your bank giving your money to? Changing the way we use the money we already have can create more direct impact on causes we support than volunteering or buying socially responsible products.
By now I hope I’ve made it clear that there is a huge opportunity for impact investing in engaging millennials. The questions now become how do we change the perception of investing? How do we market impact investing to millennials?
If I knew, I’d be doing it. Maybe the answer is a nation-wide campaign. Maybe the answer is an advocacy organization. I don’t know, but I’m committed to pursuing the answer. If you’d like to join me or have any thoughts, leave a comment or connect with me on social media. Together, we can rethink how millennials use money.