Are your donors, boards, and volunteers aging themselves out of existence?
I often sit in on my clients’ event committee meetings and am concerned when I see the same faces year-after-year and most of those faces are over 70. This is worrisome as all organizations should be actively engaging younger supporters and volunteers to fill the void that is fast approaching as the current elderly supporters disappear due to life-changes, illness, or even death.
The problem is complex. Organizations must find ways to engage Millennials, Gen X, and even Gen Z to ensure the long-term viability of their organizations.
Often, however, older generations don’t want to relinquish the reins of boards, committees, and events. They don’t want to see their long-time projects and signature events hijacked by younger generations by whom they feel threatened. Their fears usually stem from a lack of shared cultural perspectives and societal values, and the elders often feel daunted by younger folks’ technological prowess.
This is especially true when it comes to volunteer committees. Older generations can feel threatened when younger members are added to existing committees. The existing long-standing members push back against the introduction of new ideas and changes to existing norms. Younger members want to see changes that reflect more modern trends and appeal.
Blending generations in committees almost never goes well and usually the newer, younger, committee members leave within a year of joining.
The solution to this problem? Stop trying to blend generations!
Of course it would be wonderful if we could easily transition the committee from octogenarians to Millennials, but the reality is that rarely works. Instead, look to engage younger supporters with new opportunities that will resonate with them and their peer group.
As an example, let’s consider my client who has a long-established gala fundraiser that supports a symphony, and the volunteer committee that is made up mostly of 70-80 year-old guild members. Let’s also consider that this event was fading away due to lack of attendance and entropy.
The solution for this? Let the existing guild keep their beloved black tie gala, but at the same time put together an entirely new, younger committee and have them create their own generationally-appropriate event. This could be an outdoor concert music concert, a craft beer festival, or a farm-to-table food tasting which has a lower ticket costs and that appeals to a younger demographic.
This new group should be called something totally different than the existing guild. You can give the committee a name that indicates they are next generation or emerging leadership. The members of this new committee can be incorporated into the mid-donor stewardship cycle with plans to move them up to major donors as their future ability dictates. This new group should be treated with utmost respect, should be asked for valuable input and their suggestions implemented when possible.
Remember, these new committee members are your future board members and major donors!
This is the best of both worlds. It ensures the gala will continue its traditions for a few more years and provide its reliable revenue stream, while building relationships and organizational brand-recognition with a new, younger support base.
It may take some time and effort to build the affinity and loyalty you have enjoyed with your long-time committees, but it is well worth the energy as it will ensure your organization is able to gracefully transition from one generation to the next.