Written by Derrick Feldmann on behalf of the Case Foundation: 

“Why do you care so much about Millennials?”

A person in the audience at one of my recent speaking engagements asked me this question in relation to my research, The Millennial Impact, and the book I co-authored, Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement.

Seems like a reasonable question, but some of you may be surprised by my answer:

I care about Millennials getting involved in causes, but I care more about the state of the organizations that are trying to make a difference in our communities. I worry they are not prepared to engage Millennials who want to be involved and have not adapted to the growing business changes this generation and others are demanding, such as: transparency, real time reporting, digital connectedness, and collaborative leadership.

Lets face it. Today we are dealing with a whole new way to do business and social sector work that is playing an increasingly important role across sectors.

We have websites that allow us to connect with anyone needing help in communities we never heard of or have ever dreamed of visiting.

I can watch polar bears in the Arctic in real time to see what is happening to their ecosystem, and if so moved can support efforts to preserve their habitat with several clicks of a button.

The concept of workplace teams now means a team of individuals not based on location, but rather brought together by talent and expertise.

We hear about tragic news—such as the Boston bombings—one second after it happens in less than 140 characters.

This is not meant to scare us, but rather to help us change the way we operate … in order to easily invite anyone from anywhere ‘in’ who wants to help, or respond when asked by our constituents to react to local needs, and innovate when necessary.

Why so much attention on Millennials?

It’s simple.

  • They are the largest generation with more than 80 million in their ranks.
  • Their consumer discretionary spending amounts to $300 billion each year.
  • They are entering our workforce and as a result other generations are finding themselves challenged by this generation’s work/life blending concept.
  • They want to conquer the world.

Perhaps most importantly, they want to accomplish all of this regardless of what existing institutions are already trying to do. For some, this “Millennial” approach may be frustrating, while for others this only adds to the intrigue of this generation and increases their desire to find common ground with Millennials.

The bottom line is that Millennials want the same thing you do—to offer ideas, be challenged, and to create solutions to our pressing problems. They want to be involved in causes, but not every organization is open—open to the ways the generation seeks to be involved. Nor are they open to the idea that today’s public expectation is that the organization is more human and transparent than ever before. Millennials are knocking on the doors of these organizations and asking them to listen. Unfortunately, we see that some organizations shut them, and any generation that disagrees, out with the way they do business.

So then the question is whether or not all generations of constituents, volunteers, staff members, and leaders for a common good in our communities (however you define that community), can find a way to work together in order to reach the impact we all desire.

The answer is that we have to, because if we don’t, we run an even bigger risk. Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, put it eloquently in the foreword of Cause for Change:

“If government or nonprofits aren’t moving fast or being effective, Millennials will channel their efforts through corporations or communities. And if corporations and communities aren’t working they’ll use their dollars, followers, and friends to demand change or to support those institutions that are making change happen on their terms.”

Rather than perpetuate the ongoing development of more organizations, why not find better ways to get Millennials and organizations working together?

So then what’s it going to take?

Organizations interested in operating differently—more openly, creating more collaborative work and constituent environments, and refining how external audiences can communicate with, involve and give so it is easier, faster, and more trustworthy.

At the same time, Millennials must be willing to come to organizations with better expectations of how institutions are ever evolving. This is a time of evolution where change does not happen overnight. Millennials must recognize that organizations possess much of the historical knowledge of community building and valuable ability to address needs.

We need an environment where both sides can excel with each other. Where conversation and dialogue about the newest ways to build these movements and how organizations can adapt.

That is why we built MCON—a platform to create dialogue among executive leaders wanting to engage the Millennial generation, but who need assistance to get going. MCON is a day of thought leadership from both Millennials and non-Millennials talking about their experiences, sharing what has failed, and collaborating on ways in which they will innovate as they go about their journey of redefining their organization. This year, MCON13 will take place on July 18 both online (FREE livestream) and in person (register) in Indianapolis, IN.

After MCON13, the conversation will continue with some of the best leaders and practitioners who are actively using social media, service and fundraising techniques to engage Millennials. This 12-month program, MI Talks, is included with every in person or online paid ticket to MCON. Participants will build upon the thought leadership gained at MCON13 with specific strategies and tactics from organizations such as Crochet Kids or Water.org.

I know the generation may frustrate you and make you work hard for their dollars and time, but trust me, magic truly happens when Millennials and organizations come together for a common good. Join us at MCON13 to hear how your organization can get started with a new approach to how you work with and for a generation that is ready and waiting to be engaged.

Register to attend MCON in person or online on July 18 at themillennialimpact.com.

Derrick Feldmann is the CEO of Achieve Guidance. You can follow him on Twitter @derrickfeldmann.