Guest Post by Carla Ganiel
The baby boomer demographic is the hot topic in volunteer management these days, but we are missing an opportunity of equal proportions if we fail to consider the impact of millennials, those young adults born after 1980, in the volunteer sector.
The business magazine Fast Company offers an image that puts multi-generational demographics into perspective: picture an hourglass. The boomers are at the top, and the millennials are at the bottom. The skinny middle? That’s Generation X, my often overlooked generation, which has much in common with the millennials but has lacked the demographic clout of our younger counterparts.
Millennials may be the most civically engaged generation to come along since World War II, according to Ryan Healy whose Employee Evolution blog focuses on millennials in the workplace. Says Ryan, “Millennials are next in line to follow in the footsteps of the GI or ‘The Greatest’ generation, and become the next great civic-minded group that will quietly demand and create change for the better.” This is a group that has much to contribute to our community-based organizations.
According to career blogger Penelope Trunk, Fortune 500 companies and consulting firms like Deloitte have been researching millennials in order to figure out how to integrate them into the workplace, but volunteer managers can learn from this research as well. In fact, Deloitte’s recommendations for managing millennials are strikingly similar to Penny Kern’s advice on managing retired volunteers. For example, Deloitte suggests that managers “provide a rationale for the work you’ve asked [millennial employees] to do and the value it adds.”
Deloitte offers retention advice as well: “Provide engaging experiences that develop transferable skills. By making [millennial employees] employable, we actually increase the odds that they will stay.” Sound familiar?
It turns out that millennials want the same things boomer retirees want: personal growth, work-life balance, and the chance to make a difference. In the workplace, millennials differ from their boomer predecessors in that they prefer to avoid “paying their dues” at entry level. Instead, they seek responsibility, access to top management, and regular feedback on performance. If their job doesn’t provide these things, they will probably quit; the average length of time a millennial stays in one position is 18 months. However, millennials are also an entrepreneurial bunch, just as likely to start their own businesses on the side, or to seek out volunteer positions that allow them to develop skills that they can transfer back to the workplace in order to advance more quickly through the ranks.
In addition to their energy, civic-mindedness, and eagerness to contribute, millennials offer organizations a wealth of knowledge and experience relative to technology. Millennials are also the quintessential team players—they have been working in teams since elementary school—and they are learning how to be effective community organizers through online social media. An added bonus, the flexible schedules that millennials demand in order to maintain work-life balance ensure that they have enough free time to volunteer.
Yes, the boomers are coming, but so are the millennials. In our haste to recruit the recently retired, let’s not forget the importance of attracting the recently employed to our volunteer ranks.
Carla Ganiel is a nonprofit management consultant from Tremont, Maine.