Young People’s Approach to Making the World Suck a Little Less

How Young People are Changing Volunteering

Did you miss the Intro to this research report? Check it out.

For all the talk about young people being lazy, addicted to technology, and entitled, they sure find an unprecedented amount of time to give back.

Results from Strategy’s 2016 Survey of Young People and Civic Participation show that 62% of young people (13–25) volunteered at least once in the past 12 months, and of those who do volunteer, 49% do so at least once a month.

Moreover, while the scope of this research was limited to young people, there is growing evidence that these high rates represent an increase over previous generations. (How’s that for “lazy,” Grandpa?)

We found that while age and gender generally aren’t defining in volunteerism, income is. Well-off or comfortable individuals are 33% more likely than low-income individuals to have volunteered in the past year. This points to the access issues low-income youth face when it comes to civic participation.

Happily, this does not translate to our member base. In fact, 87% of members who report having a low-income background have volunteered in the past year. Yup, 87%.

Why? Why is attractive to the “typical” young volunteer as well as the “atypical”? Hint: It’s not because we give away sweet T-shirts (which we do). In fact, it’s simple: provides young people with easy means of acting on social issues via the web and SMS. We design every campaign with young people in mind, and none require access to a car, a parent, or money. That’s why our campaigns are accessible to young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Volunteering Outside “The System”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects a relatively low rate of youth volunteerism at 26.4% for teens and 18.4% for those in their early twenties. Notably, the Bureau uses a dated definition of volunteerism, which instructs their survey participants to “only…include volunteer activities that you did through or for an organization.” This artificial delimitation excludes most of the charitable work that young people currently do.

In contrast, Strategy’s survey instructed respondents to consider volunteer activities they did “…for any group or organization, with friends, or by yourself…formally or informally.” This broadened definition was adopted to keep current with how young people engage not just with volunteerism, but also with a generational shift away from formal arrangements.

Informal activities can include spending time helping a classmate with homework, cleaning an elderly neighbor’s house without pay, or spreading awareness about a cause via social media — things that are not done through a local or national organization or logged for community service hours, but are carried out nonetheless.

By acknowledging activities outside traditional organization-instructed opportunities, the reported rate of annual youth volunteerism more than doubled. The low rates from the Bureau, instead of proving that young people are selfish, highlight the increasing irrelevance of traditional organizations, a trend highlighted in the works by Robert Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, among others. Putnam has documented broad and steep declines in traditional organizational membership, a trend he suggests has led to a loss in civic participation.

What Putnam and the Bureau miss are the underlying changes in affiliation preferences and the role that technology plays in civic participation. They undervalue how the volunteer system is evolving, diversifying, and getting stronger, all thanks to this generation of young people.

Yep, young people are getting. Stuff. Done.

Research & Editorial Team
Jeff Bladt, Chief Data Officer,
Nick McCormick, Data and Survey Research Analyst,
Ben Kassoy, Editor-in-Chief,
Keri Goff, Creative Director,
Meredith Ferguson, Managing Director, TMI Strategy
Irene Pedruelo, Editor, Director of Research,

The survey was distributed to individuals ages 13–25 across the United States and its outlying territories. Prior to analysis, the data was cleaned and weighted as follows:
• Individuals with completion times of under 5 minutes were excluded from the results.
• Individuals younger than 13 years of age or older than 25 years of age were excluded from the results.
• Weights were applied to create equal representations across gender and age.
The final sample includes 3,305 observations. Results presented here are reported post-weighting, meaning that the opinions and actions of 13-year-old females are just as well represented as those of 25-year-old males.
Assuming a population size of approximately 45,000,000 13–25 year olds nationwide, a sample size of 3,305 at a 95% confidence level allows for a 1.7% margin of error.

About is a global movement for good.
We’re activating 5.4 million young people (and counting!) to make positive change, both online and off. And it’s already happening in every area code in the US and in over 131 countries! When you take action with, you join something bigger than yourself. You team up with the young people who’ve run the largest sports-equipment drive. And clothed over half of America’s teens in homeless shelters. And cleaned up 3.7 million(!) cigarette butts around the world. You’ve got the power and the passion to make a difference on any issue you want — we’ll help you get it done. Welcome to LET’S DO THIS.
About TMI Strategy
TMI is a strategy consultancy that uncovers insights about young people to develop creative solutions that drive social change. Fueled by’s proprietary data from millions of young people involved in hundreds of cause initiatives, we uncover what motivates young people to connect with companies and causes they care about. Not your typical agency, every project TMI takes on has positive impact on people, the planet, or both — and 100% of TMI’s profits support For more information, visit