My Millennial daughter, Jean, is a ardent activist. Hunger has been one of her causes since she was a teen. One evening a few years ago I was eating dinner with a client.
The hour got late, so I called to check in with Jean. She answered her cell. "Checking in," I said. "I'm diving," she replied. Short for dumpster diving. She and other volunteers were going to the back doors of restaurants waiting for unsold food to be thrown out. That food would feed the homeless in the morning. I think the 5-second rule was in play.
Suddenly, I had a flash of parental intuition. I simply knew she was diving behind the restaurant where I was wining and dining my client, and we had parked within sight of the dumpster. Sure enough, as we went to our cars, my can-do Millennial activist was hoisting a huge bag of bread into the trunk of a car. There was lettuce in her hair
I have always been proud of Jean’s desire to make the world a better place, but I didn’t see her efforts in generational terms until a few weeks after the lettuce event. One afternoon when I dropped her off for an environmental protest, she was especially excited. As she got out of the car she said, “I helped organize this, and it’s going to be big. Maybe after today I’ll have an FBI file, just like you.”
Just like me? That didn’t feel quite accurate. I grew up during the 60s, saw the civil rights and peace movements first hand and participated in the anti-nukes movement of the 70s. (Hence the alleged FBI file.) But was Jean’s activism like ‘60s protests? Yes and no.
One difference is scope. Idealistic Boomers wanted to change everything. Our visions were huge, revolutionary and, OK, rather vague. Protesting Boomers wanted to teach the world to sing or to burn down everything and start over, whichever came first. Tweet This In generational studies, we call a period like this an Awakening. Institutions are challenged and ideals reign.
But Millennials like my daughter are not an Awakening generation. They are a Crisis generation. This is when old institutions change shape. They take on new forms to serve a new time. Millennial activists don’t want to burn things down. They wanted to make things work. Tweet This
Millennials tend to create and support causes that are pragmatic and immediate. Think about 9/11 and the Asian Tsunami. Millennial volunteers organized immediately. But they weren't after ideals. they were after impact.
There’s a lesson here for you and your nonprofit as you engage four or five generations of donors and volunteers. Couch your appeal in terms and in a tone each generation can hear.
You can talk about high ideals to Boomers, and they will hear you. But don't make that mistake with Gen X or Millennials, becuase they won't.
Appeal to those gens with asks and projects that are scalable, measurable and hands-on. That's how you'll win them.
We have tips for working with volunteers of different generations. Download Amys' The Gen-Savvy Volunteer.
Amy Lynch, Generational Speaker | @AmyLynchGenEdge
Let's Talk: 615-944-6140
President of Generational Edge, Amy Lynch has written and spoken about the generations for 15 years. She has spoken to 100s of groups from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Amy has been quoted in national publications, including The Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and NBC Evening News, among others.