Maintaining Millennial Interest in the Nonprofit Sector

According to a recent New York Times article, Millennials are increasingly seeking employment with the nonprofit sector. Applications for AmeriCorps positions have almost tripled (91,399 in 2008 to 258,829 in 2010), and the number of applicants for Teach for America climbed 32% last year to a record 46,359. This is certainly exciting news for the sector and speaks to the potential of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network – both nationally and here in Detroit – to start a movement advancing social change.

There is a challenge inherent to this groundswell of interest by Millennials, though: Are nonprofits ready for them? I’m sure that every YNPN Detroit member has run across instances where the generation gap has posed a significant challenge. After all, many Boomers view Millennials to be lazy, disrespectful and self-absorbed. Meanwhile, Millennials seem to become easily frustrated with the close-mindedness of the seniors of the field.  For example, Millienals often seek to incorporate technology and social media into the daily workings of an organization, though many Boomers find such efforts unnecessary and a waste of time. This can lead to frustration on both sides. If we in the nonprofit sector don’t take steps to mitigate this generational gap, will we risk losing Millennials to other sectors?

Commongood Careers offered the following advice in the March Talent Works Monthly to nonprofit employers seeking to retain Millennials:

Because many millennials are eager to take the next step or advance within an organization (quickly), it can be challenging to ensure satisfaction within their current role. You can address this by explaining the competencies and experience necessary in order to take the next step. Show them that getting to that place will involve taking many small steps and clearly chart out those steps for them, so that they feel like they are not only working towards a goal, but also so that they feel like their ambitions have been heard.

Although millennials may be thinking about their next career move, that doesn’t have to mean leaving your organization. But if you’re not providing professional development opportunities or having open conversations to discuss their long term career goals, it may result in attrition. Take time to understand where they’d like their career to be in the short and long term. From there, you can provide professional development opportunities, such as attending events or engaging in mentoring relationships with senior managers. Encourage them to take advantage of all opportunities that will strengthen their understanding of their field of interest.

Such advice that would certainly be appreciated by many young nonprofit professionals, though not all organizations are willing to devote the time and resources necessary to create such opportunities. And what about those organizations who aren’t even thinking in this way? Is there a place for young nonprofit professionals to provide these types of supports to each other?

Clearly, YNPN seeks to fulfill some of these needs by providing opportunities for networking and professional development.  Additionally, by helping to facilitate connections among the network, YNPN provides opportunities for mentoring and career advice.  What else could YNPN do to help retain this surge of young talent into the sector?


4 thoughts on “Maintaining Millennial Interest in the Nonprofit Sector

  1. To answer one of the questions posed, no, I don’t think these types of supports can be provided by millennials, for millennials. Laying out steps for career advancement must be done by an employee’s superior who actually has power over his/her position. Understanding millennials’ career goals and helping them reach those goals also must be done by an authority figure. Millennials can help one another by sharing experiences, coaching and even reprimanding each other at times, but this is no substitute for intentional career development which only a boss can provide.

    1. You certainly make a valid point… Organizations must be intentional about building leadership among all levels of their staff, from entry level positions to the CEO. Too often, though, we find such investment stops with middle managers, and younger employees are left to figure it out on their own. I think we have to both create the space for these young professionals to find what they aren’t getting at their organizations, and challenge the directors of such agencies to change in a manner that will help to ensure knowledge and leadership development is valued at every single level.

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