One of the "hot topics" in nonprofit governance conversations these days is the subject of young people in the sector. In fact, the discussions have been going on for quite some time now; for the past couple of years, conferences have featured "Next Gen" sessions and streams comprising panels discussing the importance of young people in the nonprofit world of the future. It seems to me, however, that much of the discussion about what this generation brings to the table has focused on the predictable: "social media," "monetizing Twitter," "fundraising through networking." While it is obvious that those born into a technologically connected world will be much more likely to see the opportunities that technology represents, and will indeed eventually solve the puzzle of transforming online visits into sales, I think to concentrate the discussion on those topics alone is to miss a vitally important benefit that younger workers bring to the workforce or the boardroom: They are adept at navigating a rapidly changing world.
Let me explain:
All of us in the sector are working hard to understand the implications of the sweeping societal changes that are taking place following the economic recession of the past two years. Boards, in particular, are struggling to make sense of all this and to devise new solutions and strategies for their organizations. It goes without saying that all potential solutions must be created within a financial sustainability framework, and that experience with economic turndowns and cycles is critically important for those holding board seats. But what is often overlooked is that these challenges are part of a wider context of change – in philanthropy in general, fundraising, and even in the very structure and incorporation of nonprofit entities themselves.
While older board members often do have the wider financial experience, the next generation of employees came of age into a world where these challenges already existed. Innovation is automatic to them. By incorporating technology and networking into every solution they put their minds to, they automatically change the process. And because that change is at lightning speed, for young people there is no "business as usual," which is exactly the message we have all received from the recession. The next generation of leaders can make the crucial difference in how effectively your board navigates a path forward while the ground continually shifts beneath it, because this generation has never known any other way to go.