Dear nonprofit leaders—I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is you’ve finally mastered the art of Millennial engagement. You’ve read the blog posts, spent night and day to decipher the inner chambers of the Millennial mind, and you’ve mastered it. Job well done.
The bad news is: Generation Z is coming a-knocking.
That’s right. Generation Z is 17. Next year, they will begin their adult lives as college students. For most of them, this will be the first year they forge a strong relationship with a nonprofit. Not surprisingly, their alma maters will continue as important institutions in their lives, often as one of the foremost organizations they give to.
We have to prepare ourselves for Generation Z. Today—while they are still in their teens. We shouldn’t procrastinate, believing they are too young to recognize the contribution they can make beyond themselves. And there are a few things to keep in mind as we begin to engage them as givers and volunteers, bringing them into the ever-evolving new age of nonprofits.
Channel the Energy
In my experience, teens are the best demographic to mobilize as volunteers at your next event or call center. They are passionate, eager, and endlessly—inspiringly—energetic. I’ve personally seen callers of all ages at different fundraising events, but 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds with the proper training are by far the least bashful and the most excited to get involved. As always, be sure to secure parental consent.
The time to start is now. Don’t let these critical years slip by without engaging your next generation of constituents. With their untempered fire and fresh approach, these teens will be a source of excitement to others. And we need to capitalize on that.
Share in Real Time
Remember those days when we didn’t share personal things at random? When the idea of exposing our private feelings invoked a sense of momentous self-revelation or monumental self-betrayal? Who would’ve thought we’d one day be sharing those really bad poems (kept stashed under our mattresses) with the hundreds and thousands? Fast-forward a few years, and we’re snapping shoe selfies and triangulating the most attractive angle of our morning cinnamon roll.
No one saw that coming ...
Sharing started anonymously on MySpace, then got personal with Facebook. Today, sharing has surpassed mere documentation. Our lives are now broadcast in real time. Although started by Millennials, sharing in real time has found its nexus amidst the upper teens of Generation Z with Facebook Live and apps like Houseparty, which allow teens to “hang out”—virtually.
In evaluating our methods of communication, it is no longer about crafting the perfect email or letter. We need to make our activities and impact go “live.” Whether it’s teaching a class, hosting a fundraising event, or filling food packages, use it as an opportunity to share in real time.
Short and Rich
When Time magazine hit the streets in 1923 with concise, pointed articles, it was a true break in traditional form. Now, almost a century later, content has been distilled to the barest of words. Think Instastory and Snapchat. People today experience information in tidbits, spending hours once dominated by television absorbing brief insights from the news and lives of others across the globe. Our minds have been recalibrated to such a degree that we—and specifically the youth whose minds have been shaped by current communication trends—can grasp entire narratives from one image, one expression, and one caption.
Take this article, for example. I wonder how many from Generation Z have made it this far. And so, when telling our story, we must strip it to its essence, animating it with authentic and compelling images. Think a series of five photos with powerful or fun headlines. One smile or one meaningful interaction caught in an image wields more magic than a detailed exposition of every accomplishment or need.
In the Millennial Age, which was the making of the disruptive entrepreneur, early trailblazers suffered from “being fancy” as described by Gary Vaynerchuck. So that if you didn’t start your own business or launch a new app, you still spent all day in Starbucks with your laptop and the illusion that you were succeeding.
And as Millennials, we’ve been called out for that mentality. There’s a palpable sense that if we don’t have what it takes to be real leaders, then we really have to get that day job.
The average teen today has been formed by these challenges and successes. In learning from our trials and errors, they have become even more prepared for leadership than previous entrepreneurial pioneers. And as nonprofits, we need to demonstrate how there are opportunities for responsibility and leadership once they do the work and own their potential. By enlisting teen volunteers as group leaders, we can get a headstart on broadening our constituency of supporters and activists.
I’ve spoken many times about the danger in isolating Millennials from the broader population of supporters. Instead of focusing solely on one demographic, we need to think more about creating a united effort, which will engage all of our supporters in one goal, fostering shared mission and collective responsibility. No one group is an independent sector of alien creatures locked in a lab in the middle of the desert.
We all have something to contribute and learn from the other. And it is only by bringing together Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Generation Z in a combined force for good that we can grow.
The preceding post is by Moshe Hecht, @moshehecht, chief innovation officer of Charidy, @wearecharidy, a 360° fundraising solution. Moshe is an accomplished entrepreneur and team leader whose passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving. When Moshe is not at the office, he is writing music and enjoying downtime with his wife and two redheaded boys.