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Will Side Hustling Millennials Weaken the Volunteer Spirit of Nonprofits?

April 28, 2017

The terms “side hustle” and “millennial” seem to go hand in hand in 2017, as this rising generation shapes the workforce to their liking in an untraditional fashion. Each instance of side hustling is unique to the hustler, but essentially this refers to alternative means to make some cash outside of a full-time role. For some, a side hustle is waiting tables, teaching yoga, maintaining a blog, walking dogs, or driving for a ride-sharing service. For those with a specialized skill, it can mean freelance or contract work in graphic design, tutoring, writing, or even practicing law. While money is a main factor, side hustling appeals to a sense of freedom, independence, and identity outside of a full-time gig. A CareerBuilder survey from September 2016 reported that over one third of millennials have a side job, stating that “about 39% percent of workers ages 18-24 and 44% of workers ages 25-34 reported earning extra cash on the side.” The ambitious nature of millennials is commendable, but when did the side hustle take over our largest generation?

Increases in the number of individuals pursuing a secondary income is a trend that could tie back to the 2008 economic crisis, where many millennials witnessed their families and communities struggle to make ends meet. Quartz Media’s article, Millennials Are Obsessed With Side Hustles Because They’re All We’ve Got, coins millennials as “Generation 1099” and considers the 2008 financial crisis as a spark that made the workforce consider additional means of income. Add that experience to the crippling student loan debt that many millennials face, and supplemental income through side hustling becomes highly appealing. With this new movement, it is important to think long-term about the implications of the side hustle on other sectors of our economy, and nonprofits may have cause for concern. Nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the work of volunteers to carry their missions to the finish line, and with millennials devoting so much time toward supplemental paid work, the hustling trend may threaten the life blood of nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit organizations are known for undertaking community-based initiatives with small staffs and limited funds. Their goals, programs, and daily operations are heavily reliant on both donations and volunteer efforts. According to the 2014 Newsweek article, Volunteering in America is On The Decline, the most common way to volunteer is through fundraising, followed by food distribution and general labor. However, all forms of volunteer engagement are down. In 2013, the volunteer rate was 25.4% (or 62.6 million people), which is down from the 2003 rate of 29%. As the rise of the millennial in the workforce occurred during this ten-year span, their prioritization of side hustling could be a contributing factor. A 2016 article from VolunteerMatch.org, The U.S. Volunteer Rate Is Still Dropping. Why?, cites similar concerns to the message from Newsweek. A couple of demographic observations were pointed out in the article, such as older generations being more inclined to volunteer for religious organizations. Other remarks include the notion that people are lazier than they have been in the past, while another comment mentioned that people are overworked with little time on their hands to give back. A unique perspective came from VolunteerMatch President Greg Baldwin who “argued that volunteer rates are falling because we as a nation don’t invest enough resources in the nonprofit sector. Without resources, nonprofits simply don’t have the capacity to effectively engage volunteers.” While Baldwin may have a valid point about resource allocation, it is interesting that he does not touch on volunteer trends making a generational shift. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a 2016 report titled, Volunteering in the United States News Release, where their findings were unique in relation to age:

By age, 35 to 44-year-olds and 45 to 54-year-olds were the most likely to volunteer (28.9 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively). Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds (18.4 percent).

Volunteering and side hustling have some mutual defining attributes: they both occur outside of full-time work, they commonly speak to passion projects for those involved, and they must work around traditional schedules that involve work and family life. With only 24 hours in the day, it seems as though millennials are prioritizing side hustling over volunteering. Side hustling is a recent and developing trend, and the impact on nonprofits is still unclear. What is clear, however, is that rates of volunteerism are decreasing and side hustling increasing among millennials. If proactive nonprofits can find a way to harness millennials’ attraction to such side gigs, they may be able to avoid concerning trends and keep their community involvement alive, knowing that their missions would perish without dedicated volunteers.  

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University of Pennsylvania
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felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu