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Working with Young Professionals

From volunteers to staff, young professionals are becoming key to development and growth of nonprofits. After the baby boomers, Millennials (ages 20 to 35) followed by Generation X (ages 36 to 51) are the largest age groups in the US and are posed to take over as the baby boomer population begins to decline. As our populations shift, our mindset on how we work them may need to shift as well.


Often than not, we hear Millennials being negatively categorized as lazy, privileged, job-hoppers, and unrealistic. Often than not, this is far from the truth. Millennials and younger Gen Xers, were brought up in an age of technology, access, and quick results. The internet does not require dial-up modems and long connection times anymore, why should change. In a world that has been driven to the brink of poverty and climate fail by the generations before them, they want to work now and quickly to be of help for their future and those that come after them.

What does this mean for nonprofits?

It means that we need to evolve how we work with volunteers and staff. Sitting in meetings about meetings discussing the same things and following “tried and true” ways in a new economy may not work anymore.


In the early 19th Century during The Great Awakening, the formal concept of charities and volunteering took hold by women wanting to make use of their time and grow their impact. Today in the 21st Century, while volunteers still want to make an impact and dedicate their “Free” time, they are looking to use these skills to build their own capacity and better themselves personally and professionally. So, while you build out your needs for support and volunteer programs, make sure you are able to build rapport with your volunteers and understand their skillsets and what they hope to get out of this opportunity. If you can build a mutually beneficial relationship, their involvement will continue, and their support will grow in other ways.


Provide them with resume worthy leadership opportunities that are built off their skills and your internal needs.

Provide them with rewards. While payment may not an option, providing networking opportunities with Board members, people who can help them on their professional and / or personal journey.

Staff and Interns

Depending on the scale of your nonprofit, financial and promotional growth within the organization can be limiting. While this can lead to Job-hopping, understand young professionals often leave because they are not being fulfilled, not learning, feeling stagnant, underutilized, and under-valued. While there may be limited traditional opportunities, what personal growth opportunities are there.


Provide alignment with their goals. This is not to say to mission drift or redirect your org based on the goals of your 5 to 100 person staff. However, ask your staff where they see themselves in 3 to 5 years. Have them create a plan to get there. Is there alignment with your organizational needs? If not, can there be? What skills do they need to get there, and how can those skills benefit your organization. Understand, if it is not in alignment with your mission and goals, they are most likely going to find a better fit somewhere else regardless. However, what if in your attempt to see what their goals are, they realize there is alignment and they can stay or in the least you realize your organization can grow because of the skills they are attaining along the way.

Provide mentorship opportunities at the Board and Staff level. What if this employee realizes that in 3 to 5 years, your organization is not where they need or want to be, but they still care about the work that you do. Mentorship not only provides them with insight and skills but maintains a connection to your organization. What if this employee will make a great board or committee member in the future? What if their insights are valued and wanted, although they may not want to be there day to day any more? Building this rapport may help them get to the next stage in their career but may continue to help you get valuable insight and support.

None of these ideas are 100% perfect, and while we have seen them work in some organizations, they cannot work in all. The point to them and this thought piece is that working with Young Professionals is not black and white. The needs of the organizations, the staff, and volunteers are changing and in-order to maintain support, we need to think differently and build understanding and relationships.

What are your thoughts?

How do you work with young professionals in your org?



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