One comment I hear executive directors make with some regularity is how they wish they could figure out how to expand their volunteer and donor base to include younger people.  I notice, though, that in practice these same executive directors continue to do the same things the same ways.  They miss the point that their current practices, policies, and procedures work perfectly at attracting their current volunteers but that to attract a new segment of volunteers, new thinking and different approaches are necessary. What attracted the current volunteers probably will not attract the younger generation.

First, let’s define the “younger generation”. I am speaking about those born between 1981 and 2000, called Gen Y. According to Peter Brinkerhoff in his terrific book Generations The Challenge of a Lifetime for Your Nonprofit, there are about 75 million people fitting this category.

He lists these distinguishing characteristics of this segment:

  • Key Events impacting them: First generation born into a high-tech society; hardwired to the Internet; civic minded; wired for collaboration and working in groups; live in a diverse- educational experience (race, disabilities, ethnic,) and to see real diversity on advertising/business/television/political worlds
  • Key Values they hold: work-life balance; confidence; social commitment; complete comfort with technology; networking; realism; well-informed; super time managers

Other characteristics they share include:

  • They are very motivated to make a difference and believe in volunteerism
  • They want to do something important and impactful…not stuff envelopes with newsletters
  • They are not looking for a long term engagement (at first), just a chance to try out a nonprofit they feel a passion to assist
  • They know they unable to be major donors at this point of their professional career but still feel they are important enough to merit attention
  • “They say…we are important and want to help too”

If you are going to attract a new segment of volunteers-and smart executive directors will figure it out-you have to go where the younger people are going, do what they are doing, and communicate the way they are communicating…all without marginalizing your current volunteer and donor base. Some new thinking is called for.

For instance, you will probably need to completely rethink events. Those wonderful galas and other black-tie optional events will not interest most 30-somethings. They probably don’t have the $200 or so either.

So, find other types of events to attract this new group, ones that are fun, active, and different and call them “friend-raisers”. Their purpose is not to make money (tho you don’t really want to lose much) but instead to generate interest in your organization and develop a following from this new group.  Events like:

  • Picnics
  • Volleyball tourneys
  • Sports night at local venues
  • Paintball events
  • Skating
  • Bowling and golf outings
  • Let your imagination run wild

There are a million other ideas but I think you get what I am saying. Your marketing department can have a lot of fun with projects like this so let ‘em go and see what they think up. In fact, find a few Gen Y’ers an ask them to help with the planning. That should guarantee success.

Another point-tap into their creativity and networks by putting a few GenY’ers on some of your committees-marketing, fund development, events, volunteer coordination, etc). Get their thinking on the way you do things to see how best to reach out to their friends. This type of collaboration is priceless.

Finally, you will need to develop a robust social media strategy (texting, Twitter, and Facebook) to communicate with this generation and have the right people to implement it. Gen Y is not “into” newspaper ads, e-mail, mailings, or radio spots.

Call me and let’s talk about this…