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Talking' Gen Y at the Library

I just got back from Young Leaders Council's occasional lunch and learn series where I chatted with some folks about the next generation and why it's important to involve them in the work of nonprofits.

The room was full of Gen Yers, Xers and even some Baby Boomers. And together, it was great to discuss and process through what Millennials are looking for in a nonprofit experience. After all, there's no way today's nonprofits will be able to save the world with our the deep involvement of Generation Y.

Indeed, the fact that we collaborated across generational lines to look at this generation in particular was very Gen Y of us. It highlights one of four key Gen Y traits, as I see them:

  • Collaboration: Generation Y came of age when collaboration was king. They played sports on teams (Little League and youth soccer, anyone?), did science projects and went to the prom in groups, and shared all of that with parents and friends who wanted to listen. Teamwork is second nature to Gen Y. Therefore, nonprofits need to develop volunteer and donation opportunities that use collaboration as a key characteristic.
  • Access: This generation has been accessible and had access to nearly anyone (parents, friends, teachers) since Day 1. The twenty-four hour news cycle was perfected during this generation. They got their first cell phones and email accounts at younger ages than previous generations. As such, they've been able to keep tabs on anyone and anything. Therefore, your organization needs to make sure its information is accessible easily and effectively. If I can't find when the event starts or where it is, I'm not interested in digging it up. If you want to be able to access me, I've got to be able to access you.
  • Work/Life Balance: Even though the word 'balance' in the most literal sense might be a thing of the past, concerns related to the relationship between free time and paid time are not. Gen Y can and will work from anywhere and during nontraditional hours, if possible. Therefore, nonprofits need to understand how to get in front of Gen Y, especially when 9-to-5 ain't exactly 9-to-5 anymore. And, if there's a way that you can fit into their already busy and inconsistent lives, you'll be the better for it.
  • Engagement: All this means that the definition of what it means to be engaged with an organization is changing. Gen Y meets and chats online. So much is done digitally, that the first connection they'll have with your nonprofit will actually be your nonprofit's Web site or email plea. Therefore, you've got to make it great and relevant if you want to continue the conversation with them.

It seems like a lot to think about, and by no means do you have to be a Gen Y expert by tomorrow morning. So, take the afternoon off, download the presentation and pontificate for a while. Then, call your team together first thing tomorrow and see how you can strategize to tap the exciting potential of Gen Y.

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