GenX is Stuck in the Middle – In the Volunteer Workforce Too!

Tammy Erickson’s posting Stuck in the Middle: How Generation X can survive the Boomer-GenY Love Fest appears to be about succession in the business world. But put on your volunteer manager hat and reread it. The dynamic she describes is happening in our volunteer workforce too. Our greatest challenge in the next 5 years is to help these generations work together to achieve the mission of our non-profits.

Here’s an important nuance of volunteering vs. paid work: Our volunteers don’t have the same motivations as they do in the workplace to “work it out.” They are more likely to get up and leave if they aren’t welcomed at the table. That’s in part behind why associations haven’t been able to draw in the GenY crowd in big waves. But on the other end, Boomers are indicating increasingly they want off the volunteer “leadership” treadmill. This last fact is supported by The Decision To Volunteer research which found that older members are less likely to volunteer in the future. We have to take action if we want to get the best volunteers. I’ll offer a few ideas for action … tell me what you think.

  • Examine our volunteer pathway … are their places where volunteers can move sideways? are there multiple entry points to volunteering? are ad-hoc roles visible, adequately resourced (think training!) and celebrated?
  • Examine how we coach volunteers through the path. Do we help them assess their skills and performance? Do we guide them into roles that will best suit them and challenge them?
  • Can we create active mentoring? As Tammy suggests, leveraging the Boomer-GenY relationship will not only provide a path for GenY into the organization, but also open up a critical role and pathway for Boomers. To make this work we need to celebrate our mentors.
  • Actively train volunteers on communication and group dynamics skills so they can draw all generations to the table?
  • Define and act on a diversity policy for our volunteer program.

The GenX squeeze has become a popular blog topic (here’s another one worth reading from Jeff Cobb, who I’d like to thank along with Lisa Junker for pointing out Tammy’s post). I’d encourage reading with your volunteer manager hat on. And, while you’re reading, here’s another from Tammy: Why Leaders Should Practice Pull Management.