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A multi-generational nonprofit

Many organizations today are managing three different generations of workers — baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1980) and millennials (born 1981 to 2000). Marketers also refer to the younger Generation Z, the first true digital natives (born from 2000 onward). Each group has its defining characteristics, experiences, values and attitudes about work.

Then consider this: by 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce, according to a PwC survey.

These seismic shifts have huge ramifications for nonprofits and foundations, many of which are led by baby boomers. Chief among the issues to address is finding relevant ways to engage younger workers and supporters. Below are a few suggestions.

Out with old ideas, in with the new

However effective previous strategies have been for creating a positive and respectful work culture, younger generations have definite ideas about what constitutes a good job. Millennials in particular strongly prefer organizations that promote innovation, including operational structures and procedures. This calls for key leaders and boards to adapt work cultures and evolve policies and practices in relevant ways, ideally seeking input from a multigenerational advisory group.

You might rethink compensation and benefits, including health plans and flexible hours. Younger workers tend to believe flexibility fosters productivity, so consider options such as alternative work schedules, summer hours and remote working. If you have a tight budget, these flexible work accommodations may help you attract qualified personnel in spite of salary limitations.

Honesty, transparency and opportunities for input are important to millennials, who grew up in a highly participatory, information-rich environment. Consider having meetings to engage employees in organizational priorities and decision-making, and increase transparency around compensation and career opportunities.

As the first generation to have had Internet access during their formative years, millennials are avid users of mobile technology and social media, and Gen Xers aren't far behind. Be sure your nonprofit takes this into account when developing and refining fundraising strategies.

Real work and real responsibilities rule

More millennials have a college degree than any preceding generation of young adults. They're also team-centric and, like their boomer parents, are willing to work hard. Moreover, as the youngest generation in the full-time workforce, they're less hindered by how things used to be done. They're clear-minded, creative and eager to tackle real problems. Likewise, Gen Xers are savvy, independent thinkers, inclined to push the status quo and often on the lookout for a good challenge.

Given that many nonprofits run lean operations, this is the best kind of problem to have. Find challenging and interesting projects for Gen Xers and millennials, provide appropriate structure and supervision, then stand back and see what solutions they dream up.

Development and mentoring matter

Employees of all generations appreciate feeling valued. Projects and guidance designed to stretch and cultivate skills help instill that feeling — especially for millennials, who thrive on learning and career development. While this might seem daunting to nonprofits with little time and staff to spare, it's a powerful way to enhance job satisfaction and retention. Plus, as boomers retire, the transfer of knowledge will become increasingly important.

Start by determining younger employees' goals and developmental needs. Then pair them with older, more experienced employees to create cross-generational dialogue. If your senior people are strapped for time, remember that mentoring doesn't necessarily mean one-on-one sessions. Consider group programs, senior leadership discussion panels, or a speed-mentoring program where select employees meet with company experts to ask questions.

Ongoing feedback is important for millennials, so don't limit it to annual performance reviews. Start setting expectations for managers to provide regular and honest feedback. It's a powerful way to encourage dialogue and create a positive work environment.

Sharing insights, expertise and income

While reaching and engaging millennials and Gen Xers is critical, don't overlook baby boomers. As CEOs, board members and members of advisory committees, boomers continue to lead the way at scores of nonprofits worldwide. They also have considerable wisdom and experience to pass along to younger generations.

But that's not all boomers have to share. In the U.S., boomers are the dominant source of individual donations to nonprofits, with more boomers giving online than via mail. In the U.K., the over-60s are more than twice as likely to give to charity — and give more as a share of their total spending — as the under-30s.

Bottom line: boomers are a key demographic when it comes to support. Engaging them warrants front and center attention in any nonprofit marketing strategy.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Seasoned writer covering a spectrum of industries, including nonprofit, financial services, health care, insurance and technology