As a nonprofit leader, it’s time to be intentional about understanding how generational differences will impact your organization’s future. If your organization has an annual gala, or if you lead a member-based organization like an association, begin to pay attention to the age differences at your events or meetings – the generation differences.  You’re most likely to see those that represent the “Veterans” group (born prior to 1946), Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), Generation X (born between 1964 and 1980) and Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000). While these generations represent many significant differences, the one area that your organization must address for its future survival is related to engagement preferences of these generations.

Without going too far out on a limb, your organization most likely has a higher number of veterans and baby boomer donors or members than Gen Xers and Millennials. Why? It most like has something to do with the different approach to engagement that is reflected between veterans and baby boomers (and some early Gen Xers) and Millennials. 

Engagement in an organization, whether it’s as a donor or a member, is often thought of as a trait of veterans and baby boomers. These generations thrived on engagement, on being together physically. Think about the key movements during a veteran or baby boomer’s time: church, service clubs and organizations like Rotary, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, PTA (or PTO) groups – all driven by being engaged, being physically present, attending meetings, marching on Washington, fighting in the trenches of a far-away place. Being there was how things got done.

But consider how Gen Xers and Millennial engage – rather than physically being there and engaged, they oftentimes elect to “virtually” be there. Their participation starts through their tablet or smart phone or online at a web site. They initiate their engagement virtually rather than feeling the need to be immediately physically present. 

What this means for nonprofit leaders is that understanding generational differences will help assure the sustainability of their organizations in the future.