Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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Everybody's Talking About Gen Y

Yesterday, while leading a workshop on how to communicate with Generation Y for over 50 Nashville-area nonprofits, it was clear that the topic of Generation Y is not simply a 'hot' or trendy one. It's a vital topic that today’s leaders are interested in, curious about, and desperate for advice and information.

It seemed like each person yesterday was in the room for a different reason. One organization wants more Gen Y volunteers; another wants to reach 20-year-olds on Facebook; another needs younger employees, someone wants to let young professionals know about their work. And while the specifics varied a bit, the commonality was clear: we desperately need to understand and then engage Generation Y.

This reality gets me excited – not just because I'm part of Generation Y and have an opportunity to talk about this topic and share my knowledge. I'm excited because people are now taking notice that Gen Y does have the potential to change the world. And, these organizations that have been changing the world are willing to learn and adapt to include Gen Y as active participators in their work. In other words, I feel like the invitation is finally being extended and we no longer have to sit at the kiddie table of social change.

But, we have a long road to walk down before we are fully able to interact with and mobilize Gen Y. Not only do organizations need to understand this group of folks are collaborators who are used to access and are redefining the work/like balance as well as engagement. Not only do we need to grasp how Gen Y is redefining community, leadership and influence. We need to understand that fully integrating Gen Y into your organization’s work involves these four realities:

Communicating with Gen Y has to be a part of your nonprofit’s overall communications strategy.
Ask your director of marketing or your VP of communications: How are we talking to people? How do we speak to donors differently than volunteers? What are we saying in our direct mail or billboards as opposed to our emails and on our Web site? Are we speaking to Boomers in a different way then we’re talking to Gen X or Y? If this person can answer all of these questions (or if it's you and you can answer them), bravo. Good for you for understanding how and why your organization communicates with the world.

If these questions can't be answered, it's time to develop a communications strategy. It's time to figure out how what you say walks people down the road of involvement, helping them move from being strangers to your cause to advocates for your work. So before you hop on Facebook or set up a Twitter account, figure out what you need to say and to whom. Figure out what you're trying to build before going to Home Depot.

Communicating with Gen Y is just the start of a conversation.
Gen Y doesn't communicate in a one-way style. Leadership and authority are viewed differently. Conversations, and not proclamations, are the way information is shared. Therefore, you've got to be willing to take the time and use the resources that facilitate conversation. The scary part is that you never know how long a conversation will last. We've all made the phone call that we expected to take five minutes but eventually lasted well over an hour. And while some communication and conversation can appear fruitless, the real point of conversing with Gen Y about your work is the conversation itself. Be willing to talk, to share, and to listen. Solicit feedback in addition to sharing information.

Communicating with Gen Y involves an investment of time.
Because many of the tools of communication used most by Gen Y are nearly free, a Gen Y communications strategy doesn't necessarily involve a lot of money. But it does require time. In today's world, time is our most precious commodity, which is why time is money. Therefore, you can't haphazardly set up profiles or upload YouTube clips and walk away. Profiles need to be updated. Emails need to be worthwhile. Whether you find a New Media Intern or hire a new position to specialize in this area, time must be spent on communicating with and reaching out to Generation Y. As you determine and plan your next steps, realize that the next 10 steps could take eight months. Or if your plan has 400 steps, they may take 400 days to execute.

Ultimately, communicating with Gen Y is a commitment you have to make and you have to be willing to see it through. Why do some people find Dane Cook remotely funny? Because he commits to the joke. Whether it’s a ludicrous story or an off-color tale, he brings energy, passion and presence to each story he tells on stage. People understand and gravitate to that. You've got to commit to the conversation.

Communicating with Gen Y does not happen with a silver bullet.
If you could reach every Gen Yer you dream of with one perfect tool, there'd be no need for me to write this post or lead workshops. Yesterday, we gave a disclaimer before we even advanced the first slide that we'd be offering up no magic wands or silver bullets. No one has ever started a Facebook group or blasted a MySpace bulletin or blogged a single post and had the world knocking on their door the next day. The tricky thing about Gen Y is that they're not all in one place. Everyone uses Facebook differently. Not everyone Twitters or even texts. One 24-year-old's life can be very different from that of another. No one tool or one act will radically change your nonprofit and immediately lower your average donor age, which is all the more reason to figure out where your conversations with Gen Yers fit into the overall communication strategy of your agency. The Internet and technology are a strategy, not a solution.