Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to charitable causes over the course of their lives. The news came via an open letter published on Facebook that the couple wrote to their newborn daughter, Max. The couple hopes that the donation—worth about $45 billion—will help make the world a better place for their daughter.
Zuckerberg is undeniably a leader of his generation—Generation Y, or “Millennials”—and his donation is setting an important precedent for his peers: that supporting social causes is more important than accumulating tremendous wealth... And yes, he's keeping quite a lump sum, but his commitment to giving most of it away is rare and unique. His actions say it all: That helping others is of paramount importance. That we are all responsible for making this world a better place.
Zuckerberg is certainly setting a positive example for his peers, but this a generation already inclined towards philanthropy. Millennials were raised during an era that saw incredible advances in technology, and these advances are helping to shape the values and priorities of today’s young. Increased use of technology has resulted in increased awareness of social issues. Cross-cultural communication is on the rise. And with this increase of awareness and enlightenment, social responsibility and accountability are becoming the new norm.
Despite many arguments to the contrary, Millennials care deeply about helping others.
A vast majority (more than 80%) strive to give back to the community. Eighty-four percent made a donation to charity in 2014. More high school seniors today than any other generation believe it’s important to contribute to society. A majority of college freshman say it’s important to help others. Seven in ten young adults self-define as social activists.
Millennials are not only thoughtful about their own actions and contributions, they also have high expectations of the companies they consume from. They are loyal to companies that support social issues. Four out of five Millennials will opt to purchase from a company that supports social causes over one that does not, if price and quality are the same.
Zuckerberg not only gives Millennials an example to live by, he has given them a platform for advocacy: Facebook. Millennials are utilizing social media to lead advocacy campaigns. And it’s working: most Americans view digital activities as an effective form of advocacy. Millennials’ are engaged in ways that are vastly different than prior generations, which enables them to get involved on a whole new level.
Zuckerberg is also leading the way towards more family-friendly work places. Shortly before Chan was to give birth, Zuckerberg announced he would take two full months of paternity leave, a decision almost unheard of for a father, let alone a father who is a high-profile CEO. Facebook also recently announced that global employees—both mothers and fathers—would be given four months of paid parental leave, setting a strong example that will hopefully influence other companies to follow suit. Zuckerberg’s leadership on these issues is very telling about his generation: they strongly value family. Millennial parents are more likely than any other generation to have a spouse who also works, so a flexible work environment with family-friendly policies is a huge draw for Millennials, and companies on the leading edge are taking notice.
This generation is positioned to become perhaps the most philanthropic and caring generation in history. And if Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership is any sort of indication, they will be.