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Sam Davidson's blog

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At the GCN Summit

Things have just gotten underway at the annual Georgia Center for Nonprofits Summit.

At any of these things I go to (by these things I mean mixers, meetings, workshops and conferences related to the nonprofit world), I can't help but notice what's glaringly missing: young faces.

Granted, depending upon the event, young people (18-34 year olds) may not need to be there. Most young folks in the charity sector are running programs (often because they want the hands-on experience). Thus, they're not going to show up at a workshop dealing with policy or board management. Likewise, if the event is for a specific job (like marketing), if someone ain't in marketing, they ain't coming.

But, this event is all about revolutions. Things are changing everywhere, but especially with nonprofits. Thus, 'change or die' is both foreboding and intimidating for nonprofit managers.

But, can we really have a conversation about where nonprofits should go if the very people who are and will be in charge of these organizations aren't even in the room?

Everyone, nonprofit or for-profit, is scrambling to get that elusive 18-34 demographic. The truth is that many of them would be very interested in your product, company, nonprofit, or volunteer opportunity. But, if your organization isn't set up to attract or retain these folks, then get ready to die.

For example, something said from the stage in the general session was that nonprofits need to be trained to keep young talent. Because it's hard to keep a 23-year-old on staff until they retire, nonprofit managers need to know how to keep someone on board.

Wrong. That's like telling someone that the best way to get from New York to LA is to call Amtrak. You'll get there, but it will be a hell of a hard time.

Instead, in nonprofit organizations, opportunities for promotion are very slim. Thus, if a 23-year-old wants to climb the career ladder (and they will because they'll need and want more money as they do things like have kids and save for retirement), their best option is to jump to another organization or leave the industry entirely.

So, nonprofits don't need to be trained to keep a young person. They need to know how to replace a young person.

Unfortunately, if I'm the youngest person in the room, that's not a good sign. It was fine a few years ago. Sure, I'm only 26, but as people are finishing college with a suitcase full of hope and ambition, charities are throwing away a very valuable asset by not engaging young persons in every level of an organization, from program design to fundraising to awareness building.

I'm currently in a session for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is a pretty empty concept, especially for non-franchised nonprofits. But I'll debrief that later.