The "bookend" generations can
be your very best volunteers -- if you know how to manage
We're sitting on an untapped gold mine of volunteers: those just
entering the workforce and those just leaving. It always puzzles
me, then, when I hear these two questions from leaders -- and I
hear them a lot.
How can I get the young adults to volunteer? They're too busy
living for themselves.
How can I get retirees to volunteer? They keep telling me, "I've
served my time."
I think, more than actual reality, these questions are influenced
by stereotypes about how difficult these generational workers can
be. Consider this recent survey reported in BusinessWeek
Career site Jobfox has surveyed over 200 recruiters about
their perceptions of employee performance based on generation. And
for the workforce's youngest members -- often referred to as
Generation Y or the Millennials -- the results weren't pretty. Only
20 percent of the recruiters classified the Millennials as
"generally great performers"... And the only demographic that
rivaled the Gen Yers for unexceptional performance was their
bookend generation, the Traditionalists (63 and older), who were
considered "generally great performers" by only 25 percent of the
When my son Jonathan and I were researching for our book, The New Breed, we discovered that
these two "difficult" groups of staff -- those young
twentysomething professionals and those in their 60s -- can
actually be the best volunteers. So if you're not tapping these two
resources, you're missing a great opportunity to expand your
volunteer base. And they're willing to volunteer -- the key isn't
in getting these two groups of people to volunteer, it's in
learning how to effectively manage them once you've got them.
Take my five-question quiz to see whether you're Boomer and
QUESTION 1: Do you have a cause?
"The world revolved around us as children. We're the spoiled
brats," says Cathie Looney, a nationally known speaker and
generational expert, about the late- and post-Boomers. "We had a
decade-long temper tantrum beginning in the mid '60s. In the '80s,
it was acquire, acquire, acquire...We're the 'I, I, I, me, me, me'
generation. We want to think of ourselves as altruistic, but we
always make sure that we take a picture of ourselves standing in
front of the house that we helped rebuild."
After years of raising children and career-building, members of
this generation are returning to lives of activism. Now that the
children of the '60s have entered the 21st century, many realize
that living for self hasn't been the fulfilling life they expected.
They volunteer because the "We want to change the world" of the
1960s still beats in their hearts. Some are leaving lucrative
careers to join the Peace Corps or Christian mission
Millennials are also cause-driven. Corporate recruiters report
that company philanthropy and building a reputation for direct
involvement are hot topics at campus job fairs. Laysha Ward, vice
president of community relations for Target, told the Wall Street
Journal, "Recruiters from all regions are hearing younger job
candidates bring up the company's 'commitment to the community as
one of the No. 1 reasons they want to come work for us.' "
The Answer: Don't recruit these generations for
an isolated task. Recruit for a task to fulfill a broader mission.
Secular organizations are masters of promoting their mission. As
ministry leaders, we have the most important mission in the world
of building the kingdom of God, yet we too often get so focused on
a particular vacancy that we forget how it fits in the greater
cause. All of your volunteers should understand and sense how their
role helps accomplish the mission. One of the most important jobs
of any leader is to keep the mission alive.
A vision without a task is but a dream.
A task without a vision is drudgery.
A vision and a task is the hope of the world.
-From a church in England, 1730
Think through the mission of your ministry and promote it. Both
these generations will respond to causes. They want to make a
difference, not a contribution.
QUESTION 2: Do you provide opportunities to use
My wife, who spent most of her professional career as an English
professor, is volunteering to teach English to a group of young
teens. Recently she said about her volunteer work, "This is one of
the most important things I'm doing right now."
Those who are retiring and leaving behind a lifetime of experience
are eager to help you accomplish your vision. Many of them had
significant leadership positions such as owning companies, managing
multimillion dollar projects, or leading private and government
Increasingly, Millennials are waiting to marry until their late
20s. Many of these single professionals have high-tech, relational,
or leadership skills that we need in our ministries. Last October I
was in Wyoming training a group of AmeriCorps VISTAs, who were
working to fight illiteracy and improve health services. Their
mantra was "Fight poverty with a passion." At lunch I visited with
one young woman who was a recent college graduate and had joined
VISTA for one year before starting her professional career. She
told me she'd just completed her one-year term and was signing up
for another. I thought as I talked with her, Why can't we
recruit these young people in our churches to give a year or two in
The Answer: Don't ask these volunteers to
stuff envelopes. This doesn't mean they're not interested in
getting their hands dirty or doing labor. Not at all; they're not
afraid of jumping in with a team when a job needs to get done.
However, the organization that uses high-quality, professionally
trained volunteers only to do unskilled labor will lose
many of them.