Do Millennials, Generation X-ers and Boomers approach corporate volunteerism in different ways?
Considering the generational differences around other areas of the workplace, it’s not surprising to see those differences extend to corporate volunteering and giving programs as well.
Generational theorists focus on the personality characteristics of each generational group, and now these analyses are being extended to the different ways that each generation approaches volunteering. For example, according to a look at this topic from the Minnesota Literacy Council, here’s a breakdown of the qualities that different generations bring to volunteering:
Traditionalists (born around 1925-1944) are committed, competent, and loyal volunteers who volunteer because they feel it’s their civic duty. They tend to pick an organization or job to commit to and stay with it for many years. They prefer to communicate by phone, in written letters or in person.
Baby Boomers (1945-1964) are ambitious, competent and competitive workers. They want to know how they’re part of the bigger picture, and if they’re making an impact with their work. Boomers prefer short term, specific assignments and opportunities to use their special skills, and they prefer to communicate through email, on the phone, or in person.
Generation X-ers (1965-1984) are adaptable, confident, self-starters and determined. X-ers volunteer when they see a cause that impacts them directly. They’re technologically savvy and highly educated, and prefer to communicate through email, text, and Facebook.
Millenials (1985-2004) are also highly educated and extremely technologically savvy, as well as enthusiastic, fun, and eager. Millennials crave personal attention and lots of praise. Like the Traditionalists, they volunteer because they believe it’s their civic duty and they want to make a difference. Millennial students often volunteer to gain professional experience. They came of age through social media and prefer to communicate through Facebook, Twitter or text.
So how do you get these different generations to connect when it comes to volunteering?
Thomas McKee, president and owner of Volunteer Power, a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism, runs workshops on volunteering and frequently divides attendees into groups according to age. McKee has written about his observations on navigating the generational minefield when it comes to volunteering.
Here’s what McKee has to say regarding top tips for harmonious cross-generational volunteering:
1. The dominating issue, whatever our age, is that we all want respect. “The best way to get respect is to listen,” notes McKee. “Nine out of 10 millennials want senior people in their company to listen to their ideas and opinions...and I’m concluding that ten out of ten boomers want millennials to ask them for their opinions.”
2. If you’re younger, spend time affirming and learning from the older generation. McKee recounts his advice to one younger manager who feared that older colleagues were out to sabotage her leadership. He suggested that she sit down one-on-one with those who were complaining and ask their advice on decisions. Sending email directives out is not the same as taking the time for personal interaction and soliciting opinions. Showing respect to older generations in this sort of way is an important step in engaging cross-generational participation in volunteering and making it a successful experience.
3. If you’re older, spend time with the younger generation. McKee encourages older generations to give the younger ones (especially Millennials) the opportunity to learn and grow as leaders. Plan an event with them, coach them on how to engage older employees, invest in them and listen to their ideas. Volunteering should be a rewarding experience for everyone involved, and that can only be the case if employees of all generations feel heard and empowered.
4. Restore your passion. Charity is contagious (as I have written about previously), and corporate philanthropy spreads throughout an organization by active involvement on the part of every generation of employee. Stay connected to the causes you believe in, participate in volunteering conferences, and bring your enthusiasm for creating impact to the workplace and to colleagues of all generations.
There’s so much to be gained when employees of different generations put aside their differences and find a common language through volunteering. Stay present to the value that each of your colleagues brings to the volunteer experience, and you’ll find that bridging the generational divide through volunteering can be the start of a more collaborative workplace overall.