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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can nonprofits engage younger staff for a sustainable future?

young leaders

The topic of recruiting and retaining high-quality Millennial employees, as well as paying close attention to incoming Gen Z, is important to the nonprofit sector because these individuals are the future of the sector. According to Purdue University Global, by 2025 Millennials will make up about 75% of the global workforce. The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy states that these generations are driving transformation in ways that are more significant than the usual generational succession has. They are “revolutionizing giving and the nonprofit sector, while raising core questions about philanthropy itself in unprecedented ways.”

Organizations that engage this younger cohort are setting themselves up for success by utilizing the advanced skills (some of which are superior to those of their bosses and current co-workers) of this generation. In Gen y Now: Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership the authors explain that these advanced skills paired with the wisdom and experience of those already at the organization, alongside quality leadership create an environment for successfully combatting nonprofit workplace shortages. This is a topic that all sectors are facing but according to the National Council of Nonprofits, what makes this an issue of extreme importance to the nonprofit sector in particular is that while the “job vacancies in the government and business sectors may cause disappointment and lost profits, the lack of adequate nonprofit staffing means the public suffers delayed or complete loss of needed services”.

The nonprofit sector must pay attention and make necessary adjustments if they want to continue to serve their communities in robust and meaningful ways. Kayla Graven of Downtown Springfield, Inc. in Springfield, Illinois put it bluntly in saying, “nonprofits need to drastically change in order to be competitive and hire/retain younger generations”. As a millennial, she understands the generation both as a member of it herself and as a leader as well.

What actionable items can organizations take to both attract and retain top talent from the millennial generation?

Let go of the myths that have been perpetuated for years about Millennials

They aren’t the entitled, lazy, not-willing-to-pay-their-dues young people that many people have seen them as for so long. What they are is passionate, highly adaptable, tech savvy and hardworking and will contribute much to an organization.

Provide ways for them to be satisfied and fulfilled in their jobs

Millennials who enter the nonprofit sector have done so, at least partially, for the intrinsic reward. Overall, they are willing to take less pay than their counter parts in other sectors if the job satisfaction is high and they feel fulfilled.

Meet these younger employees where they are

The most productive thing that leaders and managers can do is open up honest dialogue with Millennials. Take a genuine interest in what they want and need: be honest and open about how the organization can and can’t meet those needs, what the expectations are of them and what they can expect from the organization, and communicate about their future and growth as often as is reasonable.

Millennials, and Gen Z which is headed for the workforce as well, are the employees of the future whether the workforce is ready for them or not. Nonprofit organizations can harness the power of this incoming generation by being flexible and open minded to the wants and needs of these younger employees. Everyone will benefit in organizations that do so, creating powerful organizations where all generations are collaborating and learning from one another to drive their missions forward.

Megan Philpot is a 2022 graduate in the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and is a member of Nu Lambda Mu Honor Society.. She also studied at Western Washington University, receiving her undergraduate degree in sociology with a minor in communication. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly a decade and looks forward to many more years doing so. She is also an avid volunteer and engaged community member. She recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest with her spouse, brand new baby, two dogs, and their cat.

Image by Lillian Finley


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Megan Philpot


ASU Lodestar Center Blog