Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Thinking About Nonprofit Generation Change

I've been thinking a lot about generation change recently, probably because my eldest son graduated from college in May, and has moved to Seattle. And, my wife and I have firmed up retirement plans, so this kind of stuff is on my mind.

And this has what to do with nonprofits? A lot. There is a huge set of generational changes going on in our employees and in our volunteers, ones you and your organization should pay attention to, and see if you can benefit from. Here are the most important ones, as I see them.

1. Boomers coming in the door: There are literally thousands of Boomers who have done their 20-25 years in the for-profit/military/government world and who, having taken retirement i their first career, are thinking: "what ever happened to my idealism of the 60's? I want to do something important." These people are looking for work in the nonprofit sector, and have amazing skills. But they haven't figured out how to fit in yet. I meet these people all the time when I do training. They come up to me and say: "I loved what you said. I started with my organization a year ago, and with my 20 years in business, I'm still trying to figure out their mindset....". The question for you: How can you find these experienced people and use their talents?

2. Boomers going out the door: At the same time, people in my generation who have spent their careers in the nonprofit world are deciding on their own retirement plans. Since there have been so many of us (boomers) we've clogged up the management/supervision pipeline. Who is going to replace these people? Sheer demographics say we don't have enough skilled managers to fill the slots coming open in the next 10 years. The question for you: Look at your management team. How many are over 55? Do you have a management succession plan? Are you training enough new managers internally?

3. Whatever happened to GenX and GenY? I get requests all the time from Executive Directors and Board Presidents about ways to recruit younger board members, and younger volunteers. (By younger here, I mean under 30) I always answer with this question: " Is everything I would need to know about volunteering, or about serving as a committee member or board member available online? Everything: meeting times, time obligations, conflict of interest, term of service length, everything?" The answer, of course, is almost always "Uh, no." "Then", I say, "Then, they won't come." The reality is that people under 30 are online as comfortably as they breath. That's where they go for information on everything from movie times to volunteering opportunities at your organization. Questions for you: Do you have the ability to donate online with credit cards and PayPal? Do you have complete information about available volunteering opportunities, board service etc on your website, including ways to send you follow-up questions by email? You need to. Words to recruit by: If you build it--they won't come. If you build it online--they just might.

4. Unintended Consequences. This issue came up at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference I attended last week. With all the wonderful educational resources now available, many managers of not-for-profits are now coming in the door with undergraduate or graduate degrees in nonprofit management and going directly into the management ranks. This is a huge change from the traditional sequence of starting as a direct provider, and moving up the food chain (often without adequate management training). My concern? Will the new managers (who may never have worked directly with patients/clients/students/etc) have the passion for mission that the prior generation did? Thus, our fabulous expansion of educational opportunities (one of the best things that have happened to our field in the past 20 years) may negatively impact the most important thing we possess; our passion for mission. Question for you: How do we retain passion for mission when we hire professional managers?