Generational transition and philanthropy

Jessica Journey’s blog post about the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit  is in my head and I cannot stop thinking about Baby Boomers, Generation X and The Millennials.

While on the track this morning at my local gym, I was thinking about what happens when one generation passes the torch to the next generation. My thoughts immediately wandered back to the 1960s when Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” passed the torch to the Baby Boomers. While there were fun cultural changes like the introduction of  rock-n-roll music, there was also tumultuous and violent changes like the Vietnam War protests and The Civil Rights movement.

Statistically speaking there is a similar passing of the torch happening today. Don’t believe me? Just go add up the numbers of the Baby Boomers and their parents’ generation and compare it to the combined numbers of Generation X and The Millennials. Still don’t believe me? Just open up a newspaper or tune your television to one of the countless news stations. There is all sorts of conflict over gay marriage, the future of Social Security & Medicare, and America’s role in the world.

I personally believe that these generational conflicts during times of transition are the result of two different sets of generational values systems clashing. It can be like tectonic plates sliding against each other producing cultural earthquakes.

So, what does this have to do with non-profits and philanthropy? I am afraid the answer is — EVERYTHING!

  • How do you think Gen X and Millennial donors will react to Catholic Charities in Illinois when they find out they have discontinued their adoption program in order to avoid compliance with the newly passed Civil Unions legislation (something these two generations value and respect)?
  • How do you think Gen Xers and Millennials will see the Boy Scouts of America as they learn about their restrictive membership policies pertaining to atheists, gays, and girls?
  • How will charities recalibrate their relationships with Baby Boomers (who have been the mainstay of most resource develop programs for a few decades) now that they are starting to retire and live on fixed incomes?
  • What will Boomers do with all this time on their hands after retirement? Could this be the start of the golden age of volunteerism? Or could part-time careers in non-profit work become a second career for Boomers looking to supplement retirement income?
  • How will the cynicism that is pervasive throughout the Gen X community impact non-profit organization’s ability to satisfactorily demonstrate “return on investment” and “return on investment” to Gen X donors?
  • How will Millennials’ technology preferences impact cultivation, solicitation and stewardship efforts?
  • As Boomers, Xers, and Millennials all start sharing space in the workplace, how will their different value systems interact and clash? How will non-profit managers balance these competing workplace approaches?

Rather than engaging in conflict and fighting, wouldn’t it be great if non-profit thought-leaders like the United Way took the lead during this transition? They could bring different groups together and engage us in a shared values discussion. They could also help local non-profits see the future and build organizational capacity to meet those challenges. Perhaps, our hope also rests with conferences such as the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit!?!?

How is your organization being proactive in preparing for this demographic earthquake? Please weigh-in and share.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
eanderson847@gmail.com
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