No doubt about it, the Millennials are coming — in fact, they are already here… and they’re having a significant impact in both the business and nonprofit worlds. We Baby Boomer leaders can live in denial for a while if we wish, but the smart “play” would be to reach out and engage millennials, see what we can learn from them, and integrate them into our organizations in important ways-and the sooner the better.

How can any nonprofit leader continue doing business as normal when the world is undergoing this huge shift in generational activity?

And, bringing this closer to home, the consulting firm Achieve found:

  • 47% of Millennials volunteered in the past month
  • 87% donated to a nonprofit organization in 2013
  • 57% wanted to see more company-wide volunteer opportunities through their employer (company-wide volunteer days, sabbaticals, performing charitable projects with a department or team).

Trends like these simply can’t be ignored. Whether developing a strategic plan for a nonprofit or building a high quality staff for the future, today’s challenge for boards and executive directors is to figure out how to engage millennials in their cause, both as funders and employees/leaders, so the agency is not left behind as this huge shift occurs. 

Now I know how my parents and others in the “Greatest Generation” felt as we Boomers grew up and took over…. 

So, what should we Boomers do to pave the way for Millennials to take their place in the organizations we lead?

Here are 5 steps we can take to embrace and win this upcoming battle for talent, supporters, and leaders:

1. Recognize the old successful ways we led, raised money, and treated staff may not work in this new world so we must be open-minded and embrace new methods, technologies, and workforce preferences and styles

Do we have a simple and easy online (and mobile) donation function?

Are we prepared to let our Millennial CEO’s work from home and leverage technology like we never could?

Are we prepared to flatten our organizations and have less structure as we know it?

Are we ready to actually listen to ideas millennials have and adopt those that we can?

2. Provide millennials with real work and responsibility faster than we were given by our bosses. We had to wait our turn to get those juicy assignments which were meaningful and had important impact. 

Millennials want to make an impact and be given important responsibilities right away. We had to serve time and wait in line back in the day…not this group

Millennials are less motivated by compensation than we were but significantly more by passion and purpose…How can you take those differences into account  and leverage them?

3. Embrace and fully support new ways to develop subordinates, with mentoring and coaching. Millennials want to be guided and are willing to learn. (They just may have a bit less patience then we did.) Since businesses and nonprofits are staffed much leaner than in previous years, Millennials have fewer opportunities to learn from sage, senior leaders than we had, and they are looking for a mentor or coach who can help them succeed. 

Are you willing to serve as a mentor or coach to those on your staff you perceive as a future leaders?

Are you willing to coach or mentor other leaders?

4. Let them wrestle with some of the problems you currently face and see what solutions they create. 

Millennials are not limited by legacy issues and old processes. Nor are they trapped by “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. 

They are clear, creative  thinkers who will focus on the problem, not the perceived organizational limitations to solving it.

Are you willing to delegate more freely so your Millennial subordinates can learn while doing?

5. To effectively engage and embrace Millennials into our organizations, we Boomers will have to check our egos and self-identities at the door. The day is rapidly coming when we will no longer be running our organizations, no longer be identified and defined by who we are, but by what we accomplished and left behind. If we do not prepare the next generation to take over, we will have failed in one of the most important areas of leadership-staff development

Are we ready to step aside and pass the gavel?

Are we ready to consult and support others who will take over from us, who will now be in the same limelight we once had?

 Will we step aside and into supportive roles to serve in supportive roles only?

For the good of all the organizations we created or improved and all those clients we have served) in our careers and productive years, I hope we Boomers can be as effective as we hand over the reigns to the next generation so it can succeed leveraging what we did into something even better-just like we did.