By Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Millennials get a bad rap, branded as entitled, lazy, and in need of corporate parents to teach them the school-of-hard-knock skills they lack. We could spend forever debating those labels. But the reality is that millennials are reaching middle age and are poised to replace retiring baby boomers on nonprofit boards of directors.
Colleen Dilenscheider is chief market engagement officer of IMPACTS Research & Development data and technology company, and she’s also a millennial who serves on boards of directors.
“The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials,” Dilenscheider says. “And that may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern and lead these organizations is actually a member of this generation.”
If you don’t “get” millennials, you won’t get them on your board. And by the time you realize that millennials are your last, best hope for preserving and growing your organization, the candidate pool will have dried up.
Don’t despair. We’re here to help you understand much-maligned millennials, why you want them on your boards, and how to keep them happy to serve.
What, really, is a millennial?
You have to understand millennials if you want to attract them to your boards.
Although most of us still think of post-World War II baby boomers as the largest population group in the U.S., in fact, millennials, roughly defined as the population wave between 1982 and 2000, have surpassed their parents, at least in numbers.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that millennials number 83.1 million, representing more than one quarter of the country’s population. Baby Boomers, in comparison, number 75.4 million, the oldest hitting 72 years old.
While baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) entered the world during the beginning of the American age of prosperity, millennials were born into a recession and started adulthood as a housing bubble burst and drove the country to the brink of financial ruin.
U.S. News and World Report looked at studies and found these major differences between millennials and boomers.
- Millennials are more progressive on social issues than boomers. A solid majority of millennials support gay marriage, while a slim margin of boomers opposes those unions.
- Millennials are less affluent than boomers, the first generation in U.S. history to enter adulthood in worse economic shape than their parents.
- Millennials are less likely to get married than boomers; and when they do tie the knot, it’s more likely to be with someone of a different race.
- Way fewer millennials own homes and many more live with their parents than boomers did at age 30.
Why you want, really need, boomers on your board
Millennials may have less money in the bank than boomers, but they have more political and social clout, a condition that likely will last for many years.
“America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by baby boomers,” says Dilenscheider. “This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the baby boomers or any prior generation to date.”
That’s one reason to install millennials on your board. Here are more.
Millennials are the best customers of cultural organizations.
IMPACT’s National Attitudes, Awareness, and Usage Study shows that millennial visitors are more likely to return within a year to a cultural group than either Gen X or baby boomer patrons. Millennials, also, are more connected than other generations and more likely to tout shows and exhibitions they like on social media. The result: Nonprofits get more bang for their audience development buck by marketing to and attracting millennial customers.
Boards can exploit millennial tech savvy-ness to help raise money and grow supporters.
O’Kelly E. McWilliams III is a Washington, D.C. attorney who advises boards on best practices, expectations, and obligations. McWilliams says the millennial who sits with him on the Epsilon Zeta Boule Foundation board customized an app that raised an addition $85,000 to $90,000 for the group, which focuses on homelessness, hunger, and education initiatives in Loudoun County, Virginia.
“Millennials bring a different perspective and different techniques for fundraising,” McWilliams says.
Millennials know how to reach younger generations.
Younger people dial into information sources differently than previous generations, says Jenifer Gager Holland, associate vice president for BoardSource, which supports and trains nonprofit leaders around the world. “Millennials can bring a different perspective to board deliberations and help boards understand potential blind spots,” Holland says. For example, religious organization are realizing that younger people meet their faith needs outside traditional houses of worship. Millennials understand that spiritual fulfillment “may not happen within the four walls of a religious structure,” Holland says. “Spiritual needs are being met through blogs, meetups, and podcasts.”
How to get and keep millennials on your board
If you wanted to attract, say, people from Paris to your board, you’d speak French; same with millennials, who have their own lexicon.
Millennials hate jargon and love clear, straight-forward language. They’re less attracted to vague values like “integrity,” and more attracted to concrete missions that embrace “courage” and “curiosity.”
“Take a look at your website and twitter feed and think about the words you use,” says Holland. “What signals are you sharing? How clearly are you articulating your core purpose? Think about how your millennial candidates perceive you and the unintentional hurdles that may be in place.”
Here are more ways to lure and keep millennials on your nonprofit board.
- Add more than one millennial to your leadership. No one wants to think of themselves as a “token” anything, the filler of some quota. Adding two or three millennials to your board shows you truly value the generation’s unique qualifications and contributions.
- Rethink the logistics of board meetings to accommodate millennials who are growing families and careers. Typical, in-the-flesh meetings, which may be fine for empty nesters, can eat into millennial family time. Consider holding fewer meetings or holding remote meetings via Skype-like applications that better accommodate millennial schedules.
- Make millennials feel part of the group. No one wants to eat alone or nurse a craft beer in a corner during board social hours or retreats. Older board members must make concerted efforts to draw millennials into conversations or cliques. Perhaps, create a mentoring system that pairs millennials with boomers, or beef up on-boarding protocols to foster relationship-building. “Boards are wise to create an environment where someone feels ready to participate and contribute on day one,” Holland says.