Part I of Thoughts On Millennial Volunteers: We Know We Can Change the World

Recruiting and keeping volunteers is difficult in its own right, but what happens when you throw those pesky millennials into the mix? Katrina Pieri for wordpress

You know, the tech-savvy, photo-obsessed teens and young adults who are often perceived as communicating solely through text, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a host of other social media sites. How do you persuade one of these elusive millennials (who are prone to walking into things due to their refusal to look up from their phones, by the way) to volunteer their time and efforts for your organization’s cause? How do you convince them that they should actually contribute to society instead of just contributing to online communities?

Well, fear not, because I myself am a millennial, and today I’m here to share Part I of how your nonprofit organization can attract millennials. In Part II I will share some general practical tips on recruiting millennial volunteers, but first we have to cover the basics.

A Lesson on Millennials:

We Do, In Fact, Think Know That We Can Change The World

Many accusations have been thrown at millennials: we’re narcissistic, we all think we’re exceedingly special, we don’t have proper communication skills because we text so much, we’re losing basic skills because we turn to technology to solve all of our problems (hello, spell check, nice to see you again), etc. Now, I call these accusations, but let’s be real, some of them hint at broad trends that do apply to many millennials. I would like to argue, however, that there’s a more important trend that should be emphasized: individuality. As a millennial, the most inspiring trend that I’ve noticed among my peers is a desire to express individuality. For a host of reasons, many millennials have been empowered to believe that they can be anything, wear anything, eat anything, and do anything they want in life. Does this sometimes lead to problems? Well, yes. Some millennials aren’t particularly fond of certain traditional business practices, for example. I just graduated from college in May, and let me tell you, during my college career I encountered many millennials who loathed the concept of the typical 9-5 job experience, believing it would stifle their creativity and ultimately burn their soul to ash.

But this empowerment also means that I have many peers who think they can travel the world, start their own creative businesses that capitalize on current technology (why, hello, full-time bloggers!), and–drum roll, please–change the world. This is not a new belief; many people before us have also desired to change the world. But I’d argue that it’s one of the most important widespread beliefs among millennials today. You see, we millennials are more accepting of diversity and alternative lifestyles. We champion individuality, remember? This type of acceptance necessarily means that we see injustice everywhere, and we want to fix it. We want to take down Big Business (whatever that means–I just heard it a lot in college), stop global warming, eliminate racism, etc. And we’ve been empowered to believe we can do these things. It doesn’t matter if we’re starry-eyed dreamers, it doesn’t matter if we can’t realistically accomplish everything that we think we can, because…

Nonprofits can help us accomplish what’s within our grasp. As I said, we already believe we can change the world. Perhaps there’s some occasional cynicism among our ranks (there’s that individuality again), but there’s also hope, desire, and confidence. We don’t just think we can change the world, we’re certain of it. So if you tell me that I can change the world by volunteering for your organization, by golly, I’ll believe you! This is very important if you’re trying to recruit and keep millennial volunteers. Or, for that matter, if you’re looking to hire millennials. And let’s be real, can a nonprofit afford not to utilize younger people now and again? We young people usually have quite a bit of energy, at the least.

If you’re a local nonprofit, make us understand that volunteering our time and efforts may constitute a small contribution, but that small contributions like this are what ultimately lead to greater change. Yes, some millennials might not understand how filing paperwork or entering numbers in a database is really doing anything to change the world, but you and I both know it’s just part of the process. You may need to explain this to millennials; you may need to show them how their contributions are going to make the world a better place.

A lot of us are dreamers, because we’ve read on the internet, heard from our peers, and seen with our own eyes that being a dreamer allows us to explore and take advantage of everything this life offers. Remember that YOLO (You Only Live Once) phrase? Yeah, I thought so. It was kind of hard to miss since it was splattered all over the internet. It might be silly (do you really need to try cliff-diving just because you’re only going to live once?), but again, it hints at the millennial belief that the world is ours for exploring. And if we can explore the world, we also want to make it as great as we can. This belief is naive to be sure, but nonprofits can help us harness our dreams of changing the world and transform them into something tangible through volunteering!

I know a lot of millennials (ahem, including myself) who romanticize life in comparison with older generations. Need I mention YOLO again? But a nonprofit can capitalize on our romanticism and turn it into something productive. I know it might seem like more work to cater your recruiting efforts to millennials’ romantic beliefs about life, but if you post online that I can help save the rainforest/provide shelter to homeless people/aid survivors of domestic abuse by doing something as boring (in a millennials’ eyes) as filing paperwork, I’ll give that post a second glance. We want you to tell us that we can change the world, and then we need you to show us how we can realistically do this by volunteering our time and efforts. Ultimately, the takeaway here is as follows: The secret to getting us to contribute to society is knowing that we already want to do just that. We just need direction, and perhaps a stern but kind reminder to put our phones away.

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