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Why the Nonprofit World Needs Millennials

Posted: 09/12/2012 2:29 pm

The social sector today is at incredible inflection point -- traditional models of nonprofit engagement are being taken over by a new era of mission-driven social enterprises and an entrepreneurial spirit that runs counter to what many believe the nonprofit sector is capable of. The irony? A cohort that has been labeled as coddled, protected, overly confident and self-centered -- is driving much of this change.

And while generational generalities abound for today's Millennials just as they do for every 20-something cohort that comes of age and is let loose in the real world, we believe there is another story that is unfolding. It's one of diversity, tolerance and innovation that has yet to be fully realized. Today's Millennials are transforming communities, relieving suffering and pursuing social change in a way that may run counter to the traditional ways of organizing, but it's because they are wired to work differently -- collaboratively, transparently, interactively, and entrepreneurially -- to affect positive change in their local communities and around the world.

This is a generation that has grown up with a new way of learning. Asking questions in a non-linear fashion and then finding the answers -- all while connecting with their peers, friends and colleagues to make change happen. The question is, are nonprofits and institutions ready?

That's what we are going to explore in this new series on HuffPost Impact, The Real Millennials of the Nonprofit Sector. We've created this space to profile Millennials who are taking their unique attributes and using them to solve social problems in new ways. These leaders exhibit some of the same qualities as other generations, but the approaches they take and the tools they use to garner support, reach new audiences, and build solutions to community problems is quite unique. There's no secret formula to what makes a Millennial changemaker, but the individuals we profile will likely exhibit some of the following characteristics:

Resiliency
Millennials are resilient. The challenges of a tough economy, poor participation numbers, or financial setbacks don't deter a strong Millennial leader. He or she instead will attack these challenges head-on, develop solutions, and drive others to act on them.

Ambition
Millennial leaders are ambitious in nature. Although some want work-life balance, a significant number of new Millennial leaders will focus on meeting the larger goal for his/her cause and work tirelessly to ensure it is achieved. Their ambition and drive is overwhelming, and their passion for helping others underpins that ambition.

Visionary
When Millennial leaders speak, they often try to offer a visual roadmap for where the organization is going -- the story that will drive action, the steps it will take along the way, and the resources needed to get there. Millennial leaders provide staff and colleagues with a strong sense of the organization's direction and purpose -- all to encourage those around them to jump on board and help out.

Risk Taker
Millennial leaders are risk-takers. In order to "change the world," sometimes risk is necessary and important. When the Millennial leader comes into an organization that has been historically risk-averse, they jump in feet first to change the infrastructure necessary for some risk-taking to occur. There are times, however, when institutions are simply not the right place for the Millennial risk-taker, and they must instead build their own infrastructure to be able to go out and make a bold statement.

Transparency
Millennial leaders, for the most part, don't know how to be anything but transparent. Given their use of relationships, technology, and interpersonal skills, transparency is second nature. They are transparent to ensure a goal is met, an outcome is achieved, and the larger vision is made possible. Transparency comes in forms of both workplace culture and in external relationships.

We think it is important to understand how these qualities and approaches are being used by some Millennial leaders today. The Millennials who want to change the world and don't care whether they do that through business, nonprofits, government, or even their own self-organized groups of friends. We will highlight Millennial leaders that use technology and unique solutions to solve some of our most pressing issues.

We have brought together an all-star list of bloggers to help us find these amazing and inspiring Millennials. Each of them could easily be highlighted in the series; but instead will be joining us in telling the stories of the Millennials that move us and make us rethink how we do our own work. In addition to us, the bloggers include:

Wendy Harmon - American Red Cross
Brady Josephson - ReCharity
Willie Mathis - Millennial Chat
Michelle Melendez - Change.org
Trish Tchume - Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

The Millennials we highlight are the true change-makers of communities across the country and around the world. They heard it could not be done, and they still persisted. Some spent long nights in coffee shops plugging away, while others traveled tirelessly crashing on friends couches and leveraging free WIFI wherever they could -- all in the effort to tell their story to stakeholders three times their age. This series will do just that - tell their story to a wider audience in a hope that you will learn and be moved.

 
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