If You Don't Give Us a Seat at the Table, We Will Build a Chair
I spent the better part of last Friday in Grand Rapids at the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network annual conference. This gathering of hundreds of young nonprofit leaders was an uplifting, inspiring, and exciting event where many Gen Yers were able to showcase their ideas and experience to their peers in order to make the nonprofit sector better. And whether I was sitting in on a session, listening to my fellow Innovation Series speakers, or chatting with people over lunch or at the happy hour, a recurring theme emerged: Gen Y is no longer waiting for an invitation to the nonprofit dance. We are throwing our own party.
Part of this is because of our generational DNA. Raised on a healthy dose of self-esteem and with volunteer opportunities (over) programmed for us, we believe that we can make the world a better place. Of course, that belief is made better by collaboration, but more and more members of Gen Y are refusing to play by the silly nonprofit rules of old.
If you had been in Grand Rapids last week, you would have seen that a new standard is being set. Millennials bring an energy and excitement that is synonymous with youth to most endeavors they are a part of. They also bring an innocent drive to dream big and try new things. What nonprofit wouldn't want to tap into this?
So, just as I asked Millennials last week with whom they were collaborating (cross-generationally), I'll ask those nonprofit leaders who read this blog: What role do young people play at your organization?
If they are merely clients, you're missing a huge opportunity to have them shape your work and mission for the better. If they are merely employees, you're reaping the immediate benefits of their enthusiasm and energy and nothing more. But, if you're finding chances for them to lead, making sure they have authoritative roles on your board, or giving them the tools to spearhead a new initiative, then you may be able to grow a revolution right before your very eyes.
And if you still choose to look past the worthwhile and valuable contributions of this generation, then watch out. The young people you ignore today just may be the ones who begin organizations that dwarf yours tomorrow.
What great examples have you seen of young people playing a pivotal leadership role at a nonprofit?