For the fourth consecutive year the Case Foundation proudly supported the Millennial Impact Conference, MCON2015, hosted by Achieve at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The dynamic two-day conference, which coincided with the release of the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, featured thought leaders from companies like Upworthy, American Express, the Huffington Post, the Levi Strauss Foundation, Square, sweetgreen, Baltimore Corps, the Knight Foundation, National Geographic, Opportunity International and more. The theme for this year’s convening was “The Power of Influence” with breakout tracks exploring art, business, media and place – and their collective impact on the ways in which the Millennial generation is engaging with the world and creating change. We were also joined by Reena Ninan, of ABC News, Cody Switzer from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Tom Davidson from PBS, as they moderated and guided the discussion throughout both days.

In Good Design: Trends Fade, Truth Remains

There were countless moments at MCON 2015 that emphasized this theme and several that stood out to our team. These included a conversation on art and design with Amy IMG_9587and Jennifer Hood from Hoodzpah Design Company and Steve Alfaro from Voto Latino. The panel identified the importance of recognizing your true mission and cutting the extra noise created by attempts at trendiness to create honest communication about a given organization. Genuine branding and imagery can be a powerful tool to help spread messages to all audiences, not just Millennials. But authenticity is key – Millennials can sniff out insincere messaging and forced trends. Hoodzpah explained that for companies to take advantage of Millennials’ inherent interest to shop for social good, they have to authentically connect their products, services or operations to a socially beneficial outcome. Otherwise this generation will fail to be impressed.

Alfaro agreed that the same degree of authenticity is a requirement for nonprofits. Design must resonate with audiences as timely, easily shareable and communicable, and the message has to be authentic.

Investing with Profit and Purpose in Mind, it’s Good Business

 Impact investing played a central role in many of the conversations at MCON, and for very good reason. Over the next four decades, the baby boomer generation will transfer $30 to $41 trillion in assets to the Millennial generation. At the same time we are witnessing the next generation’s drive to create social change now, rather than waiting until the end of their careers, and this includes starting or investing in socially conscious companies.

As Stephanie Cordes, the vice chair at the Cordes Foundation (and a Millennial) shared, 91% of consumers say they would switch products to purchase in support of a cause and millennials make up an ever-increasing proportion of these consumers. Moreover, according to Spectrem Group, 75% of Millennials now consider the social and environmental impact of the companies they invest in to be an important part of investment decision-making. Companies that closely integrate social good into their business model were featured widely at MCON, including the Fashion Project, which enables fashionistas to sell their gently used clothing and accessories online while donating a portion of proceeds back to a charity of their choice, and Miir, which gives back to charitable causes for every product it sells (ranging from bikes to backpacks to water bottles.)

Attendees also heard about the full range of impact investing opportunities from Dr. Rishi Moudgil from the University of Michigan, attended a co-fireside chat with Ellen-Blair Chube of Ariel Investments and Karen Martell of Square, and Nicholas Tedesco from J.P. Morgan discussed philanthropic engagement with millennial investors.

The notion that Millennials value the social commitments of the companies they invest in and purchase from resonated through many of these talks. The market is responding to the millennial generation’s expectation that doing good requires cross sector collaboration and greater fluidity between different market types.

Lessons from more than a Century of Doing Good

mcon photoFinally, two household names shared their insights on how their brands remain strong cultural symbols that transcend generations. Daniel Lee of the Levi Strauss Foundation (which was recently profiled by the Case Foundation in our Be Fearless Action Guide) gave a moving talk about the impact of the Levi Strauss brand since its founding in 1873. Throughout its 142 year history, the foundation has spearheaded moments of progress for civil rights throughout history. As a foundation and a corporation, Levi Strauss is not afraid to show its support for the movements that align with its values and to take necessary steps to be considered a continuously relevant brand.

The audience was noticeably excited to hear from Gary Knell, CEO of National Geographic (Nat Geo). The media company has been a cultural phenomenon and educational resource for millions of people across the globe (it is printed in 41 languages) for more than 125 years. A whopping 23 million people follow Nat Geo’s Instagram account, which serves as a powerful storytelling platform and place to share mesmerizing imagery, and as a result is regarded by Knell as one of the organization’s strongest communications tools. With its size, global reach and history, Nat Geo continues to set the bar for true, authentic storytelling. By articulating its clear values of conservation, education and inspiration and coupling them with powerful stories, told through video and photography, they show us all how an organization can build strong relationships with its audiences across generational lines. By successfully traversing many different media platforms (Nat Geo also has a noticeable presence on Snapchat, for example), while staying true to their brand, Nat Geo remains a relevant and beloved brand for audiences that range from the eldest Baby Boomers to Millennials (and younger!).

The Conference concluded with a live performance from the lead singer of O.A.R, Marc Roberge. Marc is equally known for both his musical talent and for his commitment to social good causes. He shared how his band has given back to the communities they tour across the globe, including donating a $1 from every ticket sold in some cities to local charities like the Habitat for Humanity. Check out the band on Spotify HERE.

MCON2015 was a wonderful opportunity to hear what is going right with current inter-generational relationships and highlighted the potential for millennials to truly become, as Jean Case, the Foundation’s CEO says, “the next greatest generation.” The conference gave concrete details about Millennials’ interests in blurring the lines between personal and professional lives through philanthropy and their desire to chart individual courses to civic engagement based on personal talent and passion. The Case Foundation is proud to continue our support of MCON and the Millennial Impact Report as a tool to foster understanding and engagement as millennials grow into leadership positions and begin making decisions that will further shape the futures of our nonprofit, government and corporate sectors.

Through the two days of presentations, panel discussions and Learning Labs a few themes emerged about effectively engaging Millennial audiences – the importance of authenticity in your brand and message; the power of business to be a source for good; and the significance of maintaining relevancy through generational, cultural and civil rights changes. We look forward to sharing many of the featured speakers and their videos with you over the course of the next few weeks. Be sure to follow @CaseFoundation via Twitter for a glimpse into MCON!