Sewing doll clothes opened a world of philanthropy to students in Ronnie Chamberlain’s theater costume construction class at Northern Kentucky University.

Chamberlain has students sew doll costumes for the class because it is easier and requires less material. But last fall, she took the class to another level by participating in the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project at NKU, which lets students make small grants to charitable causes they research and vote on as part of their academic course work.

Instead of sewing clothes for dolls and putting them in storage at the end of class, the class used a $1,200 donation from the Mayerson Project to buy 48 dolls and made clothes for them which were then donated to the DCCH Center for Children and Families in Fort Mitchell and the Brighton Center in Newport, says Mark Neikirk, executive director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which manages the Mayerson program. The class also collected or created $2,400 in additional gifts, which were donated to the nonprofits.

Now in its 17th year, the NKU program, started with a gift from the Cincinnati-based Manuel D. & Rhoda Mayerson Foundation, has exposed more than 3,600 NKU students from 41 different academic disciplines to philanthropy, providing $1.5 million in direct and indirect grants to more than 330 agencies.

“We’re trying to educate people in whatever discipline whether it be biology or math or political science,” says Neikirk, “but we’re also trying to prepare students to be engaged in the community and stewards of the community. So when they leave here, they’re not only very good at what they majored in and contribute to society in their professional life, but also have an understanding of what it means to be engaged in their community and contribute to their community.”

The Mayerson Project, which has also published a widely distributed handbook on how to incorporate philanthropy into academic courses, is just one example of how Tristate nonprofits are increasingly engaging millennials and students in charitable giving.

Demographics are a big reason why. Millennials, those born between 1980 and 1999, are the largest living generation, totaling 80 million in the United States. They will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 and are on the receiving end of a projected $30 trillion in wealth transfer from their parents and other generations. 

According to the recent Millennial Impact Report, 75 percent of young people donated to causes last year and 63 percent said they gave their time to volunteer. 

“We are seeing a trend from our non-millennial donors trying to encourage and engage their children who are millennials to be more philanthropic and engage our staff to create tools to get their whole family together to give,” says Phillip Lanham, director of donor relations at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“It varies family by family but we’re definitely seeing mom and dad or grandparents wanting their millennial family members to create their own identity in the philanthropic space and not just support the same things they did,” he says.

When it comes to learning about charitable giving, it’s never too young to start. 

Magnified Giving, a nonprofit started by Cincinnati philanthropist Roger Grein, engages high school and junior high students in researching and making giving decisions as part of their class work. 

The idea is that donors can expand their gift by “educating the next generation. Teaching them how to be good board members, alumni and good citizens,” says Kelly Collison, executive director of the Evendale-based program.

While it’s true families do pass the idea of giving down through the generations, there’s still a need for philanthropy education, she says.

“We just believe we can’t leave it to chance,” she says. “There are a lot of students, especially in larger inner city districts and rural small communities that need a guided effort. So it’s brought to them like math, reading and science so they have an understanding. It’s also a self-confidence booster. They understand they can go and volunteer and be part of community and it’s valued. “ 

Since starting in 2008 with eight schools and $8,000 in small charitable grants, the program this year has 86 participating schools some as far away as Indianapolis and Cleveland and will surpass the half-million dollar mark in giving. Besides the $1,000 grants provided by Magnified Giving, the students are encouraged to raise their own funds to further expand their impact.

What is the next-generation of philanthropy looking for?

Lauren Jones, a millennial and development officer for the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Women’s Fund, says her generation wants to see immediate impact from their efforts.

“When nonprofits are cultivating these individuals it’s important for them to recognize all the ways a millennial can be engaged, not just cultivating them from a dollar standpoint,” she says. “Experiences are crucial, something the group in general is hungry for. So if a nonprofit can cultivate that, it creates a better donor for them.”

Another thing that separates millennials from prior generations, says Lanham, is a wider view of giving.

“Their community is the world because technology has broken down barriers and borders,” he says. “Nonprofits in this area are competing with nonprofits across the oceans. They don’t necessarily think they only have to give in their own backyard.”

There are plenty of different opportunities for millennials to get engaged in philanthropy in the region. Lanham says most nonprofits have some kind of outreach for younger givers. For example, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Ambassador Council was started in 2009 to cultivate the next generation of educational outreach, fundraising and volunteerism.

There are also free-standing efforts such as Give Back Cincinnati, started in 2000 by a group of friends. It has grown into several thousand young professionals who annually donate thousands of volunteer hours to projects while meeting others and having fun in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Next summer Magnified Giving will expand its student philanthropy education further by offering a series of weeklong philanthropy camps.

“We’re going to go all the way down to third, fourth and fifth grade kids,” says Collison. They will spend Monday through Thursday learning about different nonprofits and make a decision on Friday which charity will win their grant.

The camps will allow Magnified Giving to expand its educational efforts beyond the regular school year to the time of year when students have more free time, she says. 

Magnified Giving also is exploring other ideas as well. “Maybe we’ll even do a family camp, where a family could come in the evening and learn how to do philanthropy,” she says. “It might be a neat lesson for them as well.”