First Millennials, Now Gen Z: A Recap for Those Trying to Keep Up

Now that they are all of-age, Millennials have joined the workforce (and volunteer force) with full steam ahead. The introduction of this generation to the workforce came as a jolt to many, as the values and motivations of this generation were unprecedented. Now, just as we’ve finally wrapped our minds around the nature of Millennials, another generation is cropping up behind them – Gen Z – and what a fascinating generation it is!

Reviewing the two, it helps to start with simple comparisons. Comparing Millennials to Gen Z, there are many similarities with subtle differences. For example…

  • Millennials are tech-savy, introduced to technology at a young age with home computers, laptops, cell phones, etc. In contrast, Gen Z are tech natives, born and raised with cell phones, iPads, smart watches, etc.
  • Millennials are motivated to engage in justice work (social, environmental, etc.) due to the dissonance between what they were raised to believe vs what they eventually learned over time due to self-educating resources. Gen Z are being born and raised with discussions of justice, and therefore have an intuition and familiarity with such topics. While millennials often drift into justice work, Gen Z root themselves in it.

There are also a handful of areas that are rather uniform in both generations:

  • Both generations are value and mission driven in their actions, beliefs, career choices, purchases, and philanthropic behaviors (including volunteering and donating).
  • Both generations are laser-focused on the positive and negative impacts of the companies and organizations they support or are affiliated with. They are no stranger to thorough research or accountability.
  • Finally, both generations appreciate the art, innovation, and creativity that comes with problem-solving — hence the warm embrace of “viral” culture in both generations.

How Millennials Pushed the Needle

Millennials began pushing the needle with their notably increased interest in careers in the nonprofit sector. Rather than climbing corporate ladders, Millennials want to do work that matters. This motivation, in combination with the 2000’s cultural surge in entrepreneurship, cultivated a brand new industry intersection that is quintessentially Millennial: social entrepreneurship.

If you think about it, social entrepreneurship leverages Millennial strengths perfectly: mission-driven work, technology-based solutions, creative branding, and digital social marketing.

Millennials are the generation that brought corporate social responsibility to the table — to the executive table, to be exact. Before, it was much more rare to observe corporate responsibility in action. Many corporations shared a common goal — to make more revenue. Until recently, corporate social responsibility made little impact on revenue.

However, Millennials leveraged their widespread digital presence and collective purchasing power to force corporations to care. There seemed to be a gradual realization: in order to appeal to the growing generation of Millennial workers and consumers, businesses needed to prove their values and measure impact.

This insight became important for industries of all kinds, including the nonprofit industry. Although the nonprofit industry was already values-driven and mission-driven, Millennials applied more pressure to nonprofit accountability. The idea being, “Your heart might be in the right place, but what are the true impacts and consequences to which you must remain accountable?” (For example, the issues surrounding voluntourism and White savior complexes.)

This question of accountability has bled into the decision-making process of Gen Z as well, which we will discuss next.

How Gen Z Is Pushing the Needle

Millennials started widespread conversations about justice, responsibility, and accountability in a way that forced corporations and nonprofit organizations to care and respond. In a way, Millennials built the foundation for the work that Gen Z would carry on (and is carrying on).

Let’s take the generationally shared question: “Your heart might be in the right place, but what are the true impacts and consequences to which you must remain accountable?”

As said in the Philanthropy Journal at NC State University, “The task of the nonprofit is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are who they profess to be, and that their impact is tangible.”

Gen Z does not only ask the tough questions — they find the answers, make decisions, and apply pressure accordingly. Meaning, for example, that they will not only decline a job offer from a corporation that is not aligned with their values; Gen Z will take it a step further to communicate the misalignment to those they are responding to, encouraging — at times urging — others to do the same.

After all, one of the major ways Gen Z has moved the needle is through the immeasurable surge and value of social influence.

Although it is more difficult for companies and organizations to truly earn this generation’s trust, the value of this trust is worth the effort of earning it. Gen Z relies on the trusted feedback of those they choose to follow on social platforms — whether those people are friends and family, internet friends, or celebrities and influencers.

Therefore, it becomes in the best interest of corporations and organizations to appeal to the interests of those influencers, as word will spread quickly, cost-effectively, and exponentially. If customer or constituent trust and feedback was important before, it’s even more important now.

Gen Z works as a collective, in many ways, rather than as an individual (as is more commonly observed in Millennials). Gen Z is more diverse than any of the generations before, and interestingly, that diversity inspires a much deeper generational understanding and commitment to advocacy for themselves and their peers. Although most of Gen Z is currently underage, it is safe to predict that the collective purchasing power of Gen Z will be far greater than even Millennial purchasing power. The thorough, thoughtful decision of one will much more effectively influence the decisions of their peers.

The majority of Gen Z is still quite young, so we have to watch our predictions over time. Here are a few predictions that are a safe bet:

  • As tech natives, Gen Z will request and require more technology solutions at worksites, volunteer sites, homes, and communities.
  • Eventually, the world will care about what this generation cares about — whether due to genuine interest and influence, or commercial/economic pressure.
  • Just as values-based and responsibility-focused careers were created or expanded for Millennials joining the workforce, new and prominent roles will likely be created for Gen Z as well. Workplaces will be restructured to include more roles relating to workplace justice and community impact, as well as roles that enforce systematic checks and balances, ensuring measured impact is followed closely by actionable accountability.

Stay tuned as the youngest generation grows up and joins the workforce. They are likely to bring great change to the world we live in, just as generations before have done in their own unique way.

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4 Ways Millennials Impact the Nonprofit Workforce

Born from approximately 1981 to 1996, Millennials are primarily between ages 24 and 39. While popular media often refer to all young people as Millennials, it’s important to discern that this generation of individuals is now entering or fully integrated into the workforce. 

The Millennial generation differs greatly from those who came before, Gen X and who came after, Gen Z. As your organization considers the role that young professionals can play in the staffing or contributions made to your organization, it’s important to understand the qualities and characteristics that make this generation unique.

When you understand the unique aspects of this group, you can make educated decisions about how to make your nonprofit an attractive place to work and volunteer, as well as motivate those who currently work for your mission. 

That being said, here are the top four characteristics of the Millennial generation and how those characteristics impact their influence in the nonprofit workforce: 

  1. Millennials engage more with causes and missions rather than institutions. 
  2. They see contributions of time and action as significantly important. 
  3. This generation is technologically apt and connected. 
  4. Culture tends to be incredibly important to the millennial generation. 

As you expand your team with new staff members and volunteers, be sure you take into account the motivations and characteristics of each individual. Remain transparent in your approach to get everyone involved and up to date with your strategy. This is attractive to both your Millennial team members and other generations. 

Ready to dive a little deeper into the characteristics of Millennials and how your organization can make them feel welcome and productive? Let’s get started. 

1. Millennials Engage With Causes Over Institutions

According to the Millennial Impact Report, the Millennial generation engages more and has allegiance to a mission or a cause rather than an organization itself. This means that this generation of volunteers and staff will feel dedicated to your mission, but not necessarily to your organization. If another organization has the same mission, they wouldn’t mind switching their allegiance. 

This quality in Millennials is key to understanding what will attract them to work with and contribute to the organization, but also what will make them stay and work with you long-term. 

If you’re working with many Millennials at your organization, make sure to: 

  • Write out a complete, descriptive, and detailed mission statement that will capture their attention. This is what draws them into working with you and clearly explains what your organization is working to accomplish. 
  • Include this mission statement on marketing documents and job descriptions. As you’re attracting younger generations to work with your organization, place your mission statement front and center for them to see. 
  • Center your strategic plan around the impact and philanthropic goals of the organization. Because Millennials are passionate about your cause, tying organizational actions to the impact they’ll have on the mission will engage and further motivate these individuals. Bloomerang’s strategic planning guide explains that your goal should never just be to “raise money.” Rather, you’re working to achieve a specific philanthropic initiative with a specific amount of money that you need to raise.

If your organization finds yourself in an uncertain or unsteady environment and want to make sure your team of staff members, specifically Millennial staff, stay focused on what’s important, you may consider switching to an organic strategic planning model. 

This model is used to solidify your team’s understanding of your philanthropic mission and identify individuals’ strengths in order to best put those strengths together to serve the mission. This keeps the focus on the mission itself rather than on your organization. 

2. They see contributions of time and action as significantly important. 

Contrary to corporate businesses, nonprofit organizations don’t rely solely on their staff members to get things done for the organization. They also heavily depend on volunteers to fill in the gaps for events, office duties, and other administrative tasks.

This is a great strategy! Many small to mid-sized nonprofits may not have the funding to expand their team to fulfill each and every need during peak events or giving seasons. Volunteers help engage supporters, achieve philanthropic goals, and save organization funding. 

It’s important to note, especially if your nonprofit wants to attract Millennial volunteers, that this generation sees contributions of time and action as just as important as donations. 

Bloomerang pulled some statistics from the Millennial Impact Report, featured in this article and the graph below: 

As you can see, Millennial cause engagement is fairly equally divided between volunteering, donating, and advocacy participation. This group of individuals believes they can make an impact on the world through many means. This differs from the mindset that donations are the most impactful way to give to a nonprofit organization. Millennials find their contribution of time and energy just as important. 

Therefore, your nonprofit should show ample appreciation for volunteers, get the most from volunteer programs, and come up with creative opportunities. For instance, consider the following strategies:

  • Promote volunteer grant opportunities. Double the Donation’s volunteer grant guide explains that many companies offer a financial match to nonprofits when their employees volunteer a certain number of hours. Informing volunteers about this opportunity and encouraging them to look up their own eligibility will help make your volunteer hours go further. 
  • Create creative volunteer opportunities for supporters. Younger Millennials are still getting their foot in the door with their careers. Finding opportunities for them to expand their resumes and develop valuable skills while helping an organization they love is a great incentive for this group of volunteers. 

Many nonprofits have a bad habit of putting more emphasis on contributions of money rather than contributions of time. However, the Millennial generation considers both to be critical to achieving your mission. Therefore, treating volunteering as important and valuable within your organization will only help you engage more supporters. 

3. This generation is technologically apt and connected. 

It’s probably not a surprise to hear that Millennials are good with technology. You’ve probably read somewhere about how the use of social media and technology are key to engaging Millennials and Gen Z. However, this is not the only consideration when it comes to Millennials and technology. 

Your nonprofit probably uses a variety of software solutions for your internal affairs. This article explains some of the different types of technology that nonprofits invest in, such as donor and volunteer management, fundraising, prospect research, event management, grant, and auction software solutions. 

When it comes to your nonprofit’s staff members, you’ll probably find that your Millennial workforce will better understand how to engage others using technology. 

Your Millennial staff members grew up in the midst of a technological boom. They’ve seen the evolution of technology and learned to adapt to these changes from a young age. Therefore, they’re more likely to quickly understand how each of these software solutions work and the potential they have to help your organization succeed. They can identify how you can strategically use these solutions to best engage your audience. 

For instance, consider the following: 

  • Your marketing software may have the functionality to post to various social media sites. Having grown up in the age of social media, your Millennials can accurately and effectively craft messages ideal for each of the different social media platforms, choosing detailed images for Instagram, writing content for Facebook, and crafting short witty Tweets. 
  • Effective fundraising software offers different ways of giving and various campaign types. Millennials in your workforce may have insight into what type of campaign will best appeal to the audience (especially if that audience is other Millennials). You may use a text-to-give campaign during events, a standard donation page for giving days, and a peer-to-peer campaign leading up to various activities. 

The Millennial generation has seen the advancement of technology throughout their lives. They can attest to how it is best used because they have grown up watching expert markers at work! Asking for Millennial staff input about your use of technology can help you better strategize and understand how to maximize its use. 

4. Culture tends to be incredibly important to the millennial generation. 

The Baby Boomer Generation was well-known for being driven by money and prosperity. The quality of their work was directly influenced by financial compensation. However, Millennials take more into consideration than simply a paycheck. For instance, company and organization culture is of vital importance to retaining your Millennial workforce. 

While money is still an important factor to motivate Millennials in your workforce, a holistic approach to compensation will take into consideration the benefits and culture in which they work, which are both highly valued by this generation. 

When you’re deciding on a nonprofit compensation package for employees, make sure to take a total rewards compensation approach. This type of approach takes into consideration the following factors: 

  • Direct compensation
  • Benefits like PTO, health insurance, dental, 401(K) matching, etc. 
  • Performance management styles
  • Work-life balance
  • Organization culture

Millennials are more likely to respond well to a well-rounded compensation approach rather than simply being motivated by the money. 

Therefore, your organization should consider how you’re developing a team culture among your employees to keep your Millennial staff members motivated. Try planning team activities for your nonprofit staff to do together like a book club (about your mission!), setting team goals and providing incentives to reach those goals, and planning outings to do together (like company holiday parties). 

If you have volunteers who also work with your organization regularly, consider inviting them along to some of these team activities! This way, when it comes time to hire new staff members, you’ve already set expectations and have access to a pool of potential employees who understand how the organization works. 

The Millennial generation has unique motivations and approaches to their work and to nonprofits. Understanding how they differ from previous generations will help your nonprofit ensure your Millennial workforce is motivated and retained over the years. Good luck! 

About the Author:

Ross Hendrickson is a co-founder and the CEO of Bloomerang. Prior to co-founding Bloomerang, he served as Product Manager for Bostech Corporation and later Avectra. Ross serves on the Horizon Council, the young professionals leadership council of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Conner Prairie’s He graduated with a B.S. in Economics & Engineering Science from Vanderbilt University.

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Mind the Gap: Managing Generational Differences in Your Volunteer Force


While this tactic might work to gather young folks to learn about your cause, it probably won’t be a selling point for older generations. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as enough pizza. As baby boomers begin to retire and have more free time for contributing to their causes, and younger generations feel more connected and civically-minded, it’s crucial to make all ages feel engaged when volunteering.

It’s true that most folks volunteer thanks to a genuine desire to help their communities. However, research suggests that motivations vary by generation.

How can a volunteer manager bridge this gap, pointing out individual successes while cultivating a community that brings everyone together?

Step one – be creative. Flyering in a coffee shop and making a Facebook event might not cut it. Talk to current volunteers about what events they are attending and ask them to help you recruit there. Reach out to new media sources and venture to new parts of town. Utilize your organization’s network – if they’re passionate about your mission, they’ll be thrilled to help!


 Step two – be deliberate. Once you’ve got a solid crew of volunteers, learn as much as you can about them. Consider personality types – who is going to be a great leader of a committee, and who has the technical skills to get work done fast? Establish a clear problem-solving protocol so that your volunteers know from the get-go that they can be honest with you and their teams.


Step three – be gracious. Consider your volunteers’ motivations when expressing your gratitude. A young volunteer might like to know how her contribution directly impacted the organization’s mission, whereas an older volunteer might like to know how his contribution made you feel. When possible, let each volunteer know that you are paying attention to them and are thankful for their specific abilities.


The benefits of age diversity in your volunteer group are obvious: more perspectives, more community engagement, and a better network. But it goes beyond that. One study on age diversity suggests that having people of different generations making complex decisions together leads to higher work performance and self-reported health.  Thinking beyond the free pizza to engage volunteers of all ages is a great step for your organization and for your community.

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