The Art of Fundraising: Let’s Stop Trashing Millennials

post by Daniel Billingsley, Vice President of External Affairs

The Art of FundraisingWhen I entered the workforce in 1998, I was a 23-year-old Gen Xer know-it-all slacker who preferred computers to typewriters, innovation over tradition, new over old, dogs over cats. Well, you get the list. Back then, our workplaces were becoming more digital, less traditional. Men were finally ditching ties and women were finally bosses (as it should be). Gen Xers were socially dialed in, focused on justice and equity. We weren’t paid much attention, and we quickly learned to assimilate into the work culture as our parents and grandparents did before.

My first boss gave me life’s most valuable lesson – I share it with new staff and interns on their first days: You’re never too good or busy to answer a phone or take a walk-in to answer a question; you’re never too good or busy to make a pot of coffee (I admittedly make horrible coffee); and you’re never too good to clean up a mess. As a nonprofit employee, I can also say I have been fundraiser, marketer, bookkeeper, note taker, chauffeur, bill collector, bad news deliverer, impromptu plumber, handyman, mover and so much more. This was valuable advice and I impart it to others – young and old – with impunity.

Gen Xers were trashed for years. We were slackers. We drank too much, smoked too much, went to too many concerts and festivals, didn’t take elders very seriously, got degrees in philosophy and women’s studies and creative writing. You know the stereotype. If you’ve ever watched “Reality Bites” or even “Friends,” Gen Xers were always tied up with life’s dramas, seemingly never doing what it really took to impress our Baby Boomer and older colleagues. We were lazy, asked for too much, prone to leave jobs to find something better.

Today, we are doing the exact same thing to Millennials. We stereotype them. We complain about their helicopter parents, their participation ribbons, their neediness, their constant digital addiction. I’m seeing and even sometimes thinking, or worse saying, the same things said about my generation when we entered the workforce 25 years ago. It’s not right, and it has to change. Millennials are digital gurus and mavens, they’re innovative, they will challenge the status quo, they will push boundaries and they provide a level of new thinking and entrepreneurship that is critical for nonprofit and corporate success in the future.

There is a great video online called “if we talked about Baby Boomers the way we talk about Millennials.” It’s a real shock to the system. The video goes on to berate Boomers for their befuddling technology skills, their gaps in scientific and digital knowledge, their dependence on tradition over innovation. It blames them for all of society’s ills. In the workplace, they are seen as slow, bossy, incompetent, technologically so behind they can’t operate a Keurig. It’s funny and cringe-worthy all at once.

Millennials are our next great generation when it comes to fundraising, volunteerism and philanthropy. Yet, just as in the workplace, we are not close to prepared to engage in their philanthropic behaviors. Additionally, income inequality and lack of opportunity for many Millennials will play into their philanthropic impact. However, while their behaviors are different or their philosophy is different, just like Boomers, Gen Xers and others before them, they will need to be taught the value of philanthropy, leadership giving, and volunteerism on a dramatically different level. This is how to increase the impact of their giving – time, treasure and talent – well into the future. They are going to be our board members, our staff, our volunteers, our donors, our advocates and our champions. It’s time to stop belittling and time to start embracing.

I always tell people that lack of diversity in any situation will stifle creativity and progress. Generational diversity – just like racial, socio-economic, gender, sexual orientation, geographic or religious diversity – is pivotal to make our nonprofits more dynamic and innovative. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, predicted that cities with high concentrations of creative and technology professionals coupled with high levels of diversity would be more economically well-off than those without. He predicted the explosive growth in cities such as Austin or San Francisco. Part of that economic well-being comes from diversity, especially among generational diversity.

We will need this economic well-being for a strong philanthropic future in Oklahoma. Let’s embrace our Millennials, along with our Boomers, Gen Xers, Xennials, Gen-Zs, the high schoolers out demanding change, our beloved Greatest Generation, and the toddlers just learning to speak. We will need everyone to change our communities, not just a few.

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