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Millennials are more generous than you think

It's the season of kindness, and contrary to their self-centered stereotypes, millennials are sharing the wealth.

A hefty 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70 percent spent at least an hour volunteering, according to the Millennial Impact Report by research group Achieve, which surveyed more than 2,500 millennial employees and managers. And considering millennials are a cash-strapped group with overwhelming amounts of student debt, that says a lot.

On average, millennials give an annual gift of $481, according to Blackbaud's Next Generation of American Giving report. And they prefer donating to children's charities more than any other cause, followed by places of worship and health-related causes.

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Millennials are "a primed generation willing and wanting to do good action into causes and issues they care about," said Derrick Feldmann, founder of Achieve, a data-driven website on millennials and social good. "Millennials are very excited ... to do something good for the cause."

Feldmann said it is the desire to be issue based and take activism roles that influences their generation to donate to children's and religious charities. Millennials are giving in two ways, he said: One by impulse, donating a dollar at the checkout counter or contributing to a Salvation Army bell ringer, for example. Second, by focusing on local causes like a neighborhood children's charity or school.

Millennial freelance
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When influenced by their peers, millennials will also donate to a cause that has social media momentum and effective marketing, like 2014's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. "No one intended to give to ALS last year," Feldmann said, but it became the event of the summer thanks to "peer influence as very effective marketing," he said. During a six-week period, the ALS Association raised a whopping $115 million.

Being tech savvy helps, too. Millennials give through charity apps, email blasts and text messaging — 62 percent gave via mobile phone last year, according to the Blackbaud report. The one-touch donating capability makes it easier for the younger generation to give, Feldmann said, often donating about $25 a pop.

But it's not just about the money. Millennials, more than other generations, contribute their time and skills. "They view donating as time and money," said Angela White, CEO of philanthropic consulting firm JGA Associates in Greenwood, Indiana. "They like to know how their gifts make a difference," she said.

If you want to give time or money this season, check that the organization you are giving to is legitimate and has been vetted. Sites like CharityWatch.org will also break down what the charity does and where those dollars go. While popular crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo or GoFundMe can be great ways to raise money for worthwhile causes, be wary of scams, cautions Charity Watch's President Daniel Borochoff. Apps like GiveEasy or JustGive are an easy way to find notable organizations to donate to, or try Volunteer Match to find many opportunities to volunteer at a nonprofit near you.

With such a strong emphasis on all the ways to give, millennials are on track to be "our major donors," White said.