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Talent Development

Volunteer Food For Thought: Shape Opportunities For All Ages In Your Organization

When I was in middle school the thought of volunteering for any school activities where I could spend time with my best friends and twin sister made me want to jump up and down with joy. As I entered high school, those same feelings of excitement were still there – and encouraged by teachers and peers in grades older than me. Seeing upper-classmen volunteer in organizations both in school and around the community made volunteering the “cool” thing to do. I kept those same thoughts in mind as I attended college and joined several organizations at the University of Texas here in Austin, and I am today, at the age of 30, still active in several organizations around the community.

When I was in middle school the thought of volunteering for any school activities where I could spend time with my best friends and twin sister made me want to jump up and down with joy. As I entered high school, those same feelings of excitement were still there – and encouraged by teachers and peers in grades older than me. Seeing upper-classmen volunteer in organizations both in school and around the community made volunteering the “cool” thing to do. I kept those same thoughts in mind as I attended college and joined several organizations at the University of Texas here in Austin, and I am today, at the age of 30, still active in several organizations around the community.

My love of volunteering doesn’t exactly fit into today’s model of the ideal volunteer method. There is a generational diversity gap stemming from years of a lack of communication within organizations. As demographics continue to shift and our population ages, it is imperative to shape volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.

According to the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration, Millennials are volunteering in record breaking numbers. Are you taking advantage of this trend and offering opportunities for all generations within your organization?

Keep the following 4 tips in mind when designing volunteer roles within your organization:

  1. Explore differences: Know that volunteer guidelines and rules you have set in place in the past may have worked for some, but as years go by a great rule of thumb to encourage younger members to sign up for volunteer opportunities is to incorporate their thoughts and ideas into your yearly plans.
  2. Train staff and volunteers: Remember change is good. Organizations today are molding into units with a variety of generations coming on board. Having staff members knowledgeable about the variety of learning styles and skills each generation can adapt to today will help in guiding volunteers to meet expectations set by the training staff.
  3. Recognition and support: Being actively engaged with volunteers and spending time with them as a support system will help the training staff understand why each volunteer is involved in your organization and see what motivates them to continue to stay engaged in the group. As each volunteer gives his or her time to your organization, be sure to recognize their efforts in ways that are preferred depending on their generation. Ask volunteers how they prefer to be recognized as everyone has a preference, and will appreciate praise accordingly in the long run.
  4. Manage and recruit: Recruiting new volunteers for organizations takes time and patience. Knowing that each generation picks up on information differently is the first place to start when soliciting new volunteers. Some may look for invitations first via email or through networking, whereas others prefer print media. As new volunteers come on board, the training staff should take lead on making all volunteers know they have an open forum for communication at all times. For any volunteer program to work and grow over time, leaders in each group need to provide direction, organization, and an ear for listening for everyone.

And sometimes, the best ways to develop new volunteer opportunities and programs across multiple generations is to exchange best practices between organizations. I invited you to share your volunteer program tips and success stories in the comments below. What has your organization seen in volunteer trends and how are you utilizing volunteer programs to engage all generations?

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.

 

Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.

 

Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.

 

Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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