Shaped and influenced by the culture and societal structures of their times, each generation has their own unique set of values, beliefs, and motivations. The variations in each generations’ mindsets promote differences in the workplace, online, and even in community service. When it comes to volunteering, each generation has different schedules, abilities, and values, which influences the types of service opportunities that they will pursue. There are currently five generations that can volunteer: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
The Silent Generation: Born from 1928 to 1945, the twenty-three million remaining members of the Silent Generation in America value resilience, determination, tradition, and work ethic. Growing up during the Great Depression, as well as through two World Wars, members of the Silent Generation learned the importance of self-sacrifice and selflessness. When volunteering, the Silent Generation prefers to have an organized work structure managed by a clear figure of authority. Patient and loyal, Silents will remain with an organization for years, dedicating themselves to its mission. To best engage a member of the Silent Generation in a volunteer opportunity, make sure to remind them that their work is appreciated and valued.
Baby Boomers: Born from 1946 to 1964, the Baby Boomer generation is the most career-driven of the generations. They value ambition, commitment, and prosperity, and to them, volunteering is seen as a career path opportunity. When volunteering, Baby Boomers like to network, forming new personal relationships, and they are known to apply common business practices to their service work. Because they are so career-driven, Baby Boomers appreciate when nonprofits are collaborative, goal-oriented, and efficient. To best engage a member of the Baby Boomer Generation in a volunteer opportunity, make sure to emphasize the mission of the nonprofit and how they are working to better the community.
Generation X: Born from 1965 to 1980, Generation X is currently the smallest of the five generations; however, they are statistically the most likely to participate in volunteering. Valuing independence, ingenuity, and flexibility, Generation X is not afraid to take on new responsibilities in the workplace. Like the generation before them, Generation X sees volunteering like a business and applies their career skills into service. They appreciate volunteer opportunities that grant them the freedom to participate when and how they please. To best engage a member of Generation X, make sure the volunteer experience is both personal and efficient, allowing individuals to feel highly accomplished when they are finished.
Millennials: Born from 1981 to 1996, Millennials are the largest of the five generations, outnumbering even the Baby Boomers at nearly eighty-three million individuals. They value honesty, compassion, and social activity, and, because they grew up with the internet, they are very technologically knowledgeable. When it comes to volunteering, Millennials care most about the mission of the nonprofit organization; to fully connect with a nonprofit, they need to understand the cause and impact of the volunteer work. To best engage a member of the Millennial generation, make sure that the volunteer work is meaningful for them, and make sure that there are group service opportunities available.
Generation Z: Lastly, born from 1997 to 2012, Generation Z is the youngest and most diverse generation. Growing up completely surrounded by technology, Generation Z finds importance in social media as a way of connecting with people in their community, as well as around the world. Members of Generation Z value respect, honesty, and equity, and, similarly to Millennials, they expect a nonprofit organization to be transparent with them about their mission. Because Generation Z is still young, it is difficult to determine the most effective ways in engaging them in volunteer opportunities. However, many nonprofits have observed how Generation Z connects with nonprofits through social media, using the platforms to donate or show support.
Overall, the different generations all have contrasting values, and this is important to take into consideration in the world of nonprofits. Volunteering may be a unique experience for everyone, but there are many noticeable patterns in the mannerisms of the five age demographics. To achieve an optimal level of volunteering recruits, nonprofits should look to incorporate as many of the generations’ values into their mission as possible, ensuring that everyone will be satisfied with their service work.
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Jordan Hannan and Jordan Lappin