Shove Over and Give Gen Y the Keys!

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 Key hole

March 20, 2014;Jewish Chronicle

“Gone are the days when an organization can survive on ‘old money’ alone”, writes Marleen Litt, social worker and chair of the American Friends of Reuth’s Young Leadership Division in The Jewish Chronicle. “The key to nonprofit success is engaging younger donors and volunteers.”

“Millennials will soon wield more power than any previous generation because they are the most passionate and idealistic generation to ever grace the planet. As such, when fueled by values or a cause they believe in, they are virtually unstoppable.”

Litt was drawn to volunteer for the American friends of Israeli healthcare charity Reuth by the opportunity to work with young volunteers. She praises their commitment, creativity and passion. Once inspired, Millennials are happy to give everything they’ve got—their creativity, time, networking abilities, social media savvy, and at times even their money. They take ownership and become emotionally invested very quickly.

What she has discovered is echoed by research into Millennials by the creative agency Achieve with the support of the Case Foundation. The research project, called the Millennial Impact Project, is a comprehensive look at how the generation aged 20 to 30 connects to, gets involved with, and supports causes. The top three factors that motivate Millennials to get involved in a cause are passion, meeting people, and enhancing their expertise, found this report. Millennials give their time, talent, and treasure, as is traditional. But Millennials also want to lend their knowledge, expertise, and networks to help nonprofits. In particular, they understand the potential social networks have for disseminating a cause message.

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Millennials that Litt knows showed their flair by organizing  a “silent disco” on the roof of the Reuth Medical Center for more than 180 young adults from seven different countries. No patients were disturbed because party attendees listened to music on headphones. The president of Achieve, Derrick Feldmann, describes a young woman who is a strong advocate for research for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as ALS). She used her passion to encourage her coworkers to participate in the Walk to Defeat ALS every year as a company event. Says Derrick, “She’s a perfect example of how Millennials use voice and advocacy as a philanthropic means to support a cause.”

It is this type of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that Millennials bring to the table. They know the type of events that appeal to themselves. Therefore, it only makes sense that they should be the ones organizing and running these events. The formula is simple, says Litt: Convince these young, talented, and energetic individuals that your cause is, in fact, theirs; give them the keys; and let them drive.—John Godfrey


This article has been altered from its original form to clarify the position of Derrick Feldmann as president of Achieve and Achieve’s role in creating the Millennial Impact Report.

  • Eugene Fram

    My experience with millennials is similar. They do great work in completing time-limited projects in very creative manners. However, they do live time-compressed lifestyles. As a result, they have little time and interest in nonprofit governance issues and activities. Boards need to have a balance of millennials with others who have the time and talent for nonprofit governance. Otherwise, some nonprofit directors are going to pay some surprising personal liability claims for failing their
    duty of care responsibilities.

  • Terry Fernsler

    My (extensive) experience with Millenials is also similar. Their preferences leaves questions about the long-term commitment needed for substantive change. Most Millenials are also eager to learn from older generations. Given these two aspects, nonprofit governance seems a good place for intergenerational dialogue.

  • Roberta

    Someone needs to direct me to some valid and current research that really supports the vague statements about millenials being ” the most passionate and idealistic generation to ever grace the planet.” In fact, a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that: “In a rather surprising twist given reports about how younger generations believe volunteer organizations and charities are the best way to improve society, volunteer rates were lowest among people aged 20 to 24 ( 18.5 percent ), while people aged 35 to 44 were among the most likely to volunteer ( 30.6 percent ).”

    As has always been the case, and always will be, all entities (whether they are private sector and public sector) need a balanced combination of seasoned professionals and up-and-coming professionals with new ideas in order for success to occur. Each party needs to learn from and work with the other in order to move missions forward.

    So, no – it’s not “time to hand over the reins” to an entire generation just because they embody some creative ideas and may be a tad bit more savvy about digital activities.