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Motivating millennials to engage in charitable causes through social media

Michele Paulin (Department of Marketing, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Ronald J. Ferguson (Department of Management, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Nina Jost (Technology and Innovations Management Group, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany)
Jean-Mathieu Fallu (Department of Marketing, HEC Montreal, Montreal, Canada)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 10 June 2014




It has been suggested that the future success of non-profit organizations lies in ensuring the sustainable involvement of the Millennial generation through social network sites. Facebook is a social media (SM) network that creates new research contexts and methodologies in service management. Organizations must now engage in learning how customer-with-customer interactions in SM could work best for them. The purpose of this paper is to better understand the factors influencing Millennials support for social causes through their autonomous engagement in the public environment of SM.


The authors conducted two studies of events for social causes (breast cancer and youth homelessness). In each, two Facebook event pages appealing to others-benefits and self-benefits were designed. Participants were randomly assigned the task of examining the appeal pages online. The dependent variables were two sets of intentions in support of the cause (online and offline). The effectiveness of an others-benefit vs a self-benefit Facebook appeal, the influence of empathetic identification with these causes and the direct and mediating effects of autonomous motivation was studied.


The studies provide consistent evidence that, to gain Millennial's support for social causes through SM, it is better to appeal mainly to the benefits others derive than to benefits to the self. Autonomous motivation is a strong predictor of supportive intentions and it also significantly mediates the positive influence of empathetic identification with a cause. Self-reported behavioral data following the youth homelessness event provided empirical evidence that the supportive intentions data were valid predictors of actual behaviors.


The paper used innovative experimental and correlational research methodologies to address Millennial's social behaviors within a SM context. The paper also introduced self-determination theory of motivation to this literature. From a practical standpoint, Millennials readily engage in impression management. Therefore, their supportive activities should be publicly lauded. Managers should also identify those Millennials who already empathize with the cause and facilitate their ability to influence other members in their networks. SM are changing at a fast pace and managers should employ Millennials in developing pertinent strategies and practices to keep pace. Taking advantage of marketing “with” Millennials can facilitate the development of new approaches for creating and supporting cause events.



The authors wish to thank JoAnne Braun of the Cure Foundation and Josh Redler of Five Days for the Homeless for their valuable support for this research. Furthermore, they thank the reviewers and especially the editor Dr Jay Kandampully, whose cooperation in the review process was greatly appreciated.


Paulin, M., J. Ferguson, R., Jost, N. and Fallu, J.-M. (2014), "Motivating millennials to engage in charitable causes through social media", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 334-348.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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