Millennials

How We Helped Our Millennials Fall in Love With Philanthropy

A transparent workplace, hands-on opportunities and cutting-edge tech will keep your millennials engaged.
How We Helped Our Millennials Fall in Love With Philanthropy
Image credit: asiseeit | Getty Images
Guest Writer
President and CEO, The NHP Foundation
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Within two years: That's when 43 percent of millennials envision leaving their jobs, while only 28 percent plan to stay beyond five years, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018. From our corner of the not-for-profit world (affordable housing), however, I'm happy to say that we are experiencing more positive averages than those.

Related: Attracting and Retaining an Engaged Millennial Workforce

Specifically, as of this year, we've had nearly 100 percent retention of what we call our Next Generation Leaders; these individuals average three years at our organization, and just as many have worked  for us for six years or more. Their involvement has contributed to a healthy bottom line as we continue to create and preserve affordable housing for those in need.

How are we making millennials fall in love with not-for-profit work and convincing them to to stay at NHPF? In 2016 we took a look around and realized two important trends in our industry: Trend one: Baby boomers are sticking around longer. (This impression is reinforced by data found in a recent survey, noting that 73 percent of working boomers said in surveys that they expected to delay retirement.)

And, trend two: Bright young talent has proved to be a boon to the affordable housing industry. Accordingly, we have devoted ourselves to carving out a strategy to attract and keep this talent segment while also maintaining our valuable “seasoned” senior workforce.

How did we do this? First we took a long, hard look at our organization and developed a blueprint for making our environment amenable to both sets of employees. We worked to create a more inclusive workplace and to encourage cross-generation teams and mentoring.

Beyond this work, we codified some of the most successful steps that other organizations can use to develop and retain Gen X-ers and upcoming Gen Y-ers, as well.

Work in not-for-profits is a perfect match to the interests of all three generations, according to this IBM Career Goals study identifying “Save the world” as the number 2 workplace desire across all three generations.

Here, then, are some effective ways we've found that any not-for-profit can use to guide millennial staffers to a satisfying long-term career helping others. (These tips may be applicable to for-profits, as well.)

Make your workplace as transparent as possible.

As many who study the millennial cohort agree, these young people thrive on transparency. This translates to communicating to young staffers about how our organization works, in terms of: Who are the target donors? How does the organization raise money? and, How is the money spent?, as well as what is expected of them, what salaries look like across the organization and what is an honest appraisal of their promotional opportunities and time tables.

Related: Combating the Millennial Attention Span to Keep Your Team Engaged

“Anything less than this level of honesty will turn off prospective Gen X candidates,” Dan Enson told me by email. He's research director at Toluna, a leading digital marketing research and technology business.

Provide hands-on opportunities.

It’s satisfying be part of a successful team effort in your office, but nothing builds camaraderie and loyalty like being part of a project onsite. For example, employees of our foundation take part in events like this installation of solar panels on an affordable housing property in Washington, D.C. That event and others bring to life the work that our organization does and make it more meaningful to those who work there.

Bill Bedrossian is CEO of Covenant House of California, a non-profit youth homeless shelter that provides sanctuary and support for homeless and trafficked youth.

Bedrossian employs about 100 millennial staffers and told me he sees the importance of personally connecting his team with those they serve. “Our millennial staff have been catalysts for creating new opportunities for connectedness, which has increased the youths’ [we serve] level of engagement and therefore success," Bedrossian said.  

"Everything from marching in Pride parades alongside youth, monthly youth/staff basketball games, a staff-youth blues band, partnering with youth in service projects ... all [these activities] have really had an impact on the culture for both youth and staff alike," Bedrossian added.

Recognize that you can never have too much data.

As members of the generation that brought us the listicle and the hot job title “data scientist,” millennials love research and stats. Not-for-profits thrive on such data as well; that's why it behooves organizations to use their research and analysis to help educate and inspire their young workforce members.

Give as much personal, individualized attention as possible.

Remember, millennials are the folks who “got the trophy for showing up.” And, therefore, according to an email I received from Kait Peters, chief strategy and integration Officer at the People Concern, a social service agency with many young employees: “The millennial generation thrives on personal attention opportunities to demonstrate their value individually and as part of the team."

“It has been my experience," she continued, "that younger staff may not have as many opportunities to voice their ideas in traditional work environments because they aren’t at senior leadership tables as much as their colleagues in other generations. So we create more opportunities for company contributions from all levels of the organization.”

Demonstrate tech-savviness.

Millennials needs to feel they have access to the latest and greatest tech available -- meaning cutting-edge databases and other tools they can use in their jobs. In addition to supplying hardware and software, you might encourage team members to sign up for skill-enhancing industry webinars and other online learning tools.

It’s also important to encourage positive social media sharing -- meaning the posting of articles relevant to the organization, the use of LinkedIn, tweets about important topics and the creation of website content. Also crucial: a smart organization social media policy.

Encourage appreciation of “old-school” tactics, as well.

While your staff is making the most of MailChimp marketing and donor texting options, never let them lose sight of the benefits of a well-handled phone call or a thank-you note. Joanne Fritz, who blogs about philanthropy at The Balance, extols the virtues of a handwritten note in an age when our inboxes have become “battlefields, crowded with junk.

"Hand-writing postcards or letters gives the message a memorable touch that will connect you to your audience,” Fritz wrote on her blog. Think of handwritten notes as a “real world” outlet for a generation that thrives on digital self-expression.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Covenant House’s Bedrossian recognizes and embraces millennial values and world views -- even, he says, when they are “contradictory to generational agency practices and policies.” Organization leadership has benefited greatly from inviting new perspectives in to almost everything Bedrossian's organization does.

The results, he says, have been a “ton of change and innovation -- and a lot of discomfort for many of us! -- but [those results have] also enabled us to serve more youth, increase our sustainability and improve the attractiveness of our agency culture."

Reward nonprofit staffers in meaningful (not always monetary) ways. In the same way that the millennial cohort appreciates transparency in the workplace, these young people also appreciate authenticity in an organization.

Leadership can demonstrate this by devising ways to reward beyond the financial option. Useful here are public acknowledgement of jobs well done and promotions even when the latter are unaccompanied by salary bumps. Consider other perks like week-ending lunches and parties, work-from-home opportunities and those beloved “summer Fridays.”

A final piece of advice on encouraging millennials to find a fit in philanthropic work: Those of us who stay in our offices and delegate through email or mulitiple staff levels miss the opportunity to collaborate, teach and learn from the next generation. Yet, while it may seem easier to lead from a more removed position, that will never be as rewarding -- or beneficial to the bottom line -- as choosing to spend time connecting with staffers one-to-one.

Related: Are Millennials the Most Generous Generation?

That’s the key to instilling a love of the job for this generation and those that follow.

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