You can’t have “Generous and Sexy” without Gen X


tape-1138088_960_720Hi everyone, before we launch into today’s topic, here’s a very important announcement on something that may affect the future of our entire sector: Double-spacing after periods is dead. Dead, I tell you! Here’s the Proclamation I wrote after receiving over 500 comments on the subject. Please print it out and post it in your bathroom or another high-traffic place.

I wrote a few weeks ago, in 15 lessons for the nonprofit sector we learned in 2015, “Let’s stop stereotyping generations and instead treat people like the uniquely beautiful, or crappy, snowflakes that they are.” Since then, however, I’ve encountered even MORE articles on Millennials: “How to Get Millennial Donors to Give,” “How to Manage Millennials,” “How to Manage Yourself When a Millennial is Managing You,” “Studies Show Productivity Increase When Millennials Fed Sriracha-Flavored Craft Beer After Hot Yoga,” etc.

Depending on the definition, I am either Gen X or Millennial, but I’ve been an Executive Director long enough that I’ve aged twice as fast the last few years, placing me squarely into Gen X territory. However, I don’t care what generation you belong to as long as you do stuff and do it well and do it on time and you are pleasant, so I’m sick of all this handwringing about Millennials, and, to an almost equal degree, Boomers. But since the articles and books and documentaries and puppet shows about the generations are not going to go away any time soon, we as a field might as well bring some balance, and pay a little more attention to the Gen Xers. Here are some facts from Nonprofit Tech for Good and MarketWatch that all nonprofits need to be aware of:

  • Gen Xers are generous, giving an average of $1,033.28 annually (Boomers give $1,248.80 and Millennials give $644.92). They give more frequently too.
  • Gen Xers volunteer at greater rates than other generations
  • Gen Xers’ household incomes are higher than other generations
  • Gen Xers are politically diverse, and thus are critical swing voters

Gen X peeps are building wealth, generously donating their money, volunteering a bunch, play a key role in our political system, and are also likely to be taking up the mantle of leadership at many organizations across the globe. And yet we continue to ignore this group of people. They’re like the middle kids. Or that movie, Twister. It was a huge hit, but when was the last time someone was like, “Hey, let’s watch Twister again”? I asked Gen Xers on the NWB Facebook community for their thoughts, and here are a few:

“We’re a generation who is adaptable (we all had to learn technology the hard way – from scratch, with a 28.8k modem and DOS) and creative (who do you think invented platform for all the cool tech of today?). We’re used to putting our heads down, not making excuses, and getting things done. We don’t want medals, we want everyone else to just pull their weight.”

“Gen Xers are in some cases (at least in my part of non-profit-land) the first generation who got into this field as a profession, and not as a second career/retirement gig. Nothing against the older generation who came before – many of them were pioneers in conservation – but I sense a resistance in some quarters to the professionalization of smaller, conservation or community-based non-profits. I’m 40 and have worked for non-profits my entire career and specifically sought out higher education that prepared me for continued work in the nonprofit world.”

“I’m a 40-something that often feels like the meat in the sandwich…Currently in my province, I am astounded at the number of opportunities available for youth. It’s hard not to feel slighted and annoyed that all of these great opportunities could be mine if I were only 20 years younger (even though I pay my fair share of taxes). On the flip side, most of my colleagues that are nearing retirement age are not ready to give up their jobs, so there’s little opportunity to move up. If a great job does come up we are often overlooked because they want ‘young and fresh.’ ”

“I would like someone on my (volunteer and paid) team to say something like ‘I’m really interested in how we get Gen X involved in our cause.’ Have those words ever been spoken? The media buzz around Millennials and their needs make it seem like an entire generation is kind of floating there, taken for granted. And yet, this generation has huge giving power, interests, volunteerism. I’d love to see people realize that we absolutely care and are vital to the nonprofit community.”

“What do I want in a workplace or volunteer experience? I want fairness. I want people to pull their own weight. I was taught to figure things out for myself, and I dearly, dearly want the people around me to spend a little more time thinking about a problem before coming to me to solve it…I don’t want a pat on the back or a gold star or a ribbon for participation.”

“It is frustrating that there is so little attention paid to our generational cohort—understandable given our relative size, but frustrating. In my community, we are seeing a generational leadership change with a bunch of Gen X folks taking the reins at major non-profits. Yet all anyone seems to ask them about is how they plan to attract Millennials.”

“We want to feel needed and listened to and respected for the hard work that we’ve done throughout our 25+ career years. We are flexible and eager to learn new things for the most part and hate to be dismissed just because we don’t feel the need to be on SnapChat as soon as we wake.”

“We recently talked to a group of Gen X donors and they were very keen to provide skilled services on a volunteer basis (web design, accounting, data analysis, etc.). I don’t know if it’s just our market, but I suggest that people consider talking about this with your donors and other supporters. There is a lot of potential there.”

“We were trained for a system that was already beginning to be dismantled. We put pressure on ourselves to live up to the living standards of our parents even as the mechanisms that made it possible—defined benefit pensions, tenure, union protections—evaporated.”

“Gen Xers are entering the peak of their careers and their giving potential, yet everyone is focused on Millennials. If you’re not looking at Gen Xers, you’re walking away from next year’s key donors and advocates.”

“I can’t wait for my Millennial Overlords to take over. It’s like waiting for the Rapture!”

There is clearly frustration among the Gen Xers that I’ve talked to, and I think it’s justified. If we’re going to make sweeping generalizations, then Gen Xers are hardworking, adaptable, smart, generous, and talented people who value a strong work ethic and high work quality. The nonprofit sector ignores this generation at its peril.

So, what are you going to do about it at your organization? Here are a few things I can think of:

Strengthen professional development for your Gen Xers: Unless a Millennial vaults over them, Gen Xers are likely going to be next generation of nonprofit EDs/CEOs. Prepare for this at your org by ensuring they are receiving mentorship, coaching, training, and professional connections. 

Create leadership pipelines: If your org has not talked about succession planning in a while or ever, start talking, and start planning. I’ve seen many great orgs fail because there is no plan for succession for when a Boomer leader retires. Some Gen Xers get tired of waiting and end up leaving. Check in with your superstar Gen X team members about their career goals.

Have family-friendly policies: Gen X folks are now having kids while also possibly caring for aging Boomer parents. If your organization’s policies and practices are not family-friendly, you may lose good Gen X team members. Have generous family leave, flexible work hours, and a family-friendly work environment.

Make it easy for Gen Xers to volunteer: Make volunteer opportunities family-friendly; think of Gen Xers’ kids as future volunteers, donors, and professionals. Due to their family obligations, it can be challenging to get Gen Xers on boards. Check in with them; maybe it’s hard for them to make a 6pm meeting because their kids’ bedtime is 7:00pm.

Build relationships with Gen X donors: Gen X donors are generous. The ones who may not be able to give as much because they have kids will likely give more as their kids grow, so we as a sector needs to focus more on this generation of donors.

Let me know your thoughts. Millennials and Boomers are great. But let’s pay some damn attention to the constantly-neglected Jan Bradys of the generations, OK? Here is a Pinterest page from colleague Amy Erekson Varga with some interesting articles on Gen X. Now, if anyone needs me, I’m going to be making a mixed tape of U2 hits so I can play it on my Walkman. 

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