Generation gap, Part 3

By Todd Cohen

Bridging the generation gap is critical for nonprofits, says Lynne Lancaster, a partner in Sonoma, Calif., for BridgeWorks, a Minneapolis-based research and consulting firm that focuses on generational issues.

“If they are going to serve four generations of constituents, and if they are going to engage four generations of volunteers and donors,” she says, “then they need multi-generational boards to help them understand what makes each of those generations tick.”

At community foundations in states like Kansas, Michigan and North Carolina, young people have been named to advisory groups to decide how to distribute funds to local charities, says Sandra Hughes, a consultant on nonprofit governance in Sarasota, Fla.

Getting youth involved in giving can prepare them for serving on boards, and represents the kind of tailored approach nonprofits should use to engage each generation, she says.

“The motivations and the reasons for people being on boards is different by generations,” she says.

Stability, security and loyalty, for example, motivated the World War II generation, she says.

“This is the group that would always be there,” she says. “They would even serve on a bylaws committee. They would give regularly.”

But with the youngest members of that generation turning age 60 next year, she says, “we’re not including them as much on boards as we used to.”

That’s a big mistake, says Lancaster, because that older Traditionalist generation, like the Boomers, Xers and Millennials, represents a critical pool of nonprofit volunteers and donors.

“We’re looking at a talent gap down the road,” she says.

To tap the potential of all four generations, she says, nonprofits “need to understand the influences that shape each generation, and some of the traits they tend to exhibit and the preferences they have for how they want to get engaged.”

Hechinger says that boards, in identifying possible new members, should “think about the organization’s future needs and the competencies of current board members.”

And in assessing current members, she says, boards should look at their personal characteristics and experiences, the boards’ overall makeup, and the need for new members to “help strengthen the understanding of the institution’s constituencies or communities.”

Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Nonprofits face challenge engaging different age groups.
Part 2: Boards seen as under-performing nonprofit asset.

Part 4: Generational ‘matrix’ seen as tool for strengthening nonprofits.

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