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The Times, They Are A Changin: How Volunteerism Is Changing From Baby Boomers To Gen X And Y

Paul McCartney must have been thinking about dealing with Generation X and Y when he sang ‘Yesterday, all my problems seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.’

Paul McCartney must have been thinking about dealing with Generation X and Y when he sang ‘Yesterday, all my problems seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.’

Yesterday, Baby Boomers ran membership associations and recruited Baby Boomers as members.  The culture of the association, the processes of the association, everything about the association, appealed to Baby Boomers. Everyone was on the same page. Problems were so far away.

Today, we’ve got Baby Boomers recruiting Gen X and Gen Y. Danger Will Robinson!  Danger! Boomers are inviting Gen X and Gen Y to join association cultures oriented around how Baby Boomers want to receive association features and benefits and value, which is not always how Gen X and Gen Y want to receive association features and benefits value.

Interestingly, the end goals are pretty much still the same. Baby Boomers and Gen X and Gen Y want leadership opportunities. All want to network. All want to volunteer and join. But how X and Y want to lead, network and volunteer and join is different than how the Baby Boomers did it and is different than many association cultures offer it.


The United States Junior Chamber (the Jaycees) is for young people ages 18-40. We are at the forefront of this generational shift. We’ve got Baby Boomer leaders (I am one) overseeing a Baby Boomer culture recruiting absolutely no Baby Boomers. The Boomers have all aged out; they cannot join us. So what are we seeing from our Gen X and Gen Y members? Here are two perspectives from two of my tail-end Boomer members:

I have been a Jaycee since 2002. So, 11 years. I notice a significant difference among not only members but the generations. Today’s members want a strong value of being perceived as a professional and a leader but have little desire to be active personally, put in time mentoring others or get dirty for a cause of greater good. If they don’t feel immediate reward they can use for self-promotion, they are not active. On the contrary, 10 years ago I’d see more of the membership willing to serve the community by being involved and personally dedicate commitment and time to help others, be active in projects even if just to support a project team. This is a big reason its harder to recruit. Generations X and Y don’t have a need to belong to a group as they feel as an individual they can get faster personal reward. That lack of “commitment” is killing chapters. How do you plan for an event that only the X and Y who have immediate personal involvement may show up to?

Another thought from a Boomer:

Gen X and Y want to be involved, but they don’t want to do the work. They feel entitled to leadership roles, but they don’t want to do the work (or they don’t even want the leadership role, because they don’t want to do the work, theme intended); a lot of our younger Jaycees that are active grew up in the organization, and their parents are still doing the work for them; they do not want to go to meetings; they want to belong, but they don’t want to commit; they are competitive but they want to find the quick and easy way (back to, no work). They need immediate rewards; they are computer and technologically savvy, but their attention span is very short; they are living at home working minimum wage, part time jobs and are okay with it. They haven’t grown up, and no one is making them

These are two perspectives, both quite strongly worded. I am sure many will agree and disagree. The question for the Jaycees and all membership associations must answer is what are we going to do about this? Generation X and Y do not always embrace a Boomer culture. Cultures die hard.  Cultures die slowly. But our old culture must give the stage to the culture of the X and Y if the membership association is to survive. Fortunately, Gen X and Y will tell us when we’ve succeeded; they’ll renew their membership.  Then we’ll join Paul’s partner John Lennon when he sings ‘Imagine all the people, joining associations in peace.’  OK, that is not quite what he sang, but I am sure it is what he meant.


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