Anisa Mirza’s call to millennials: ‘Give back in whatever way you can’

This article was originally published in Illuminessence, October 1, 2013.

If there is anyone who believes that millennials give back, that would be Anisa Mirza.

But that is hardly a sentiment shared by many, says the 26-year-old, drawing from her five years working in the nonprofit sector.

Whether as a board member, fundraiser, volunteer or manager, Mirza has been told time and time again: the young do not give back.

“The way that nonprofits are running is not going to help us prepare for the leaders of tomorrow. I was really frustrated with the status quo,” said Mirza.

“We were not trying to reach out to young people,” she argued.

She felt this sense of disenfranchisement even more when she managed the Engage Youth in Motion program, founded in 2011 by Settlement Integration Service Organization (SISO), which was once Hamilton’s largest settlement agency. With more than 60 participants, the city-wide program championed a vision of involving youth and getting their voices heard.

Half Pakistan and half Italian, Mirza was born in Canada but moved to Italy and then Pakistan when she was six, where her dad was originally from. She lived there for 10 years before returning to Hamilton. That cross-cultural experience motivated Mirza to work closely with newcomer youth.

Through the program, Mirza liaised with youth organizations, pointing out city’s resources and services to immigrant and newcomer youth from diverse backgrounds.

But as she began building bridges between organizations and youth, she realized a growing need to change the way organizations engage with young donors. She became tired of the assumption that millennials are disinterested and do not have money.

“We don’t understand when it is a good time to ask for a donation, we don’t understand how much they would like to give, we don’t understand what kind of involvement they would like to have,” she said.

CHARTING HER OWN COURSE

While she was determined to challenge that assumption, Mirza was still unsure about the next steps in her career. After working in the nonprofit sector for four years, she handed over the torch and plunged into a new role at a large Toronto-based education technology startup, Top Hat Monocle.

For seven months working as an outside sales rep and accounts manager, Mirza met with potential customers, pitched the company’s software and closed deals. The role gave Mirza a taste of the competitive startup environment, an invaluable experience towards fulfilling her goal of starting her own nonprofit.

“Many times you are learning as you go. You have to have the ability to rise up much faster than you would in a traditional company,” she said.

“You are more hands-on because there are less people and there is a lot more to get done.”

ENGAGING NEXTGEN DONORS

Combining her experience working in a startup with her vision to change the way organizations communicate with young donors, Mirza co-founded Giveffect, a crowdfunding platform built exclusively for charities and nonprofts with an emphasis on next gen donors.

The online giving platform helps registered charities to fundraise and tap into the social networks of young donors in their 20s and teens. 6.2% of the money raised through the platform goes to Giveffect. In return, the company provides charities demographic data about donors.

The focus is on building relationships between the organization and its donors, says Mirza.

“How can we interact with our donors, retain them? Until I understand the beginning of how that relationship grows, how would I be able to manage that relationship going forward?” she said.

Since it started in October 2012, the company has enlisted about 100 charities on its platform, with 39 currently visible on the site. Fifty campaigns have been created for various charities, including War Child, Epilepsy Canada and United Way Bruce Grey.

MESSAGE TO MILLENNIALS

As she continues to cultivate a culture of giving through Giveffect, Mirza is optimistic that millennials can make a positive change.

“Everyone has a call to action and we need to respond to that call to action,” she said.

“How are you giving back, how are you improving the world?”

“Young people are going to solve the world’s problems. I believe in that … I believe that innovation is at its peak right now, and it is only going to get better. Don’t sell yourself short, you have a responsibility.”

And this is her call to action to her fellow millennials: “Give back in whatever way you can.”