WASHINGTON — It was an otherwise routine bus ride through the Costa Rican countryside several years ago that changed the way Chase Adam thought about what makes people give.
Mr. Adam, a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer at the time, noticed that a woman canvassing riders for donations to help her ailing son was having unusual success where others came up empty. The reason, he quickly realized, was in the woman’s hand: a copy of her son’s medical record that vivified his struggles.
The insight led Mr. Adam to start Watsi, a digitally focused health nonprofit that is helping to redefine charitable giving for millennials, in part by replicating online that kind of direct connection between patient and donor.
“It seemed crazy to me that there were all of these large nonprofits out there, but it felt like there were so many barriers between what I could give and what I could do and who it would affect,” said Mr. Adam, now 30.
As the bulk of the millennial generation — those born from roughly 1980 to 2000 — crosses the threshold into adulthood, its members are showing little interest in the types of philanthropic organizations that were preferred by their parents and grandparents. Instead, they have unleashed many of the same skills and values that helped to revolutionize everything from communications to political organizing to reimagine charitable giving.